Alberta health officials have confirmed that a respiratory illness called enterovirus D68 has made at least 18 children ill in the province.

Lab tests Monday confirmed 10 cases in Calgary, five in Edmonton and three in central and northern Alberta.

While respiratory problems are common at this time of year — the "September spike" is well-documented — these come as doctors in the U.S. grapple with the spread of enterovirus D68, which has been sending more children to hospital in that country than a typical virus.

The Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary has seen a spike in the number of children admitted for respiratory problems in the past several weeks and is adding new beds to keep up with demand.

Alberta health officials can't say if this is the same D68 strain causing outbreaks in the U.S. and are working with Canada's national lab to find answers.

"We don't routinely test for it at all, so we started to look for it when we had the accounts in the U.S.," said Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot. "Right now it's more of academic interest than anything else. It's not because it's causing a lot of disease. It's because we can identify it and it does appear to be a new character on the scene."

Parents should take the same precautions as usual do to keep children healthy, such as ensuring hand washing and keeping children home when they are sick.

"By and large, it's fairly mild. Now, with kids who have asthma — and five of the cases that we've seen so far that ended up in hospital have asthma — any respiratory virus can push them over the edge, so that's why we push those general precautions," said Talbot. 

More serious symptoms

Enterovirus is not uncommon, but the D68 strain tends to cause more serious symptoms like wheezing, trouble breathing and loss of appetite.

Randy Johnston, who is married to a CBC employee, said his four-year-old daughter Elizabeth is still recovering after a respiratory virus put her in Alberta Children's Hospital for several days last week.

'Tuesday morning she was fine and by Wednesday morning she's in a bed, hooked up to oxygen.' - Calgary parent Randy Johnston

"We were worried very much so. You know, just to see how quickly it progressed, I mean, Tuesday morning she was fine and by Wednesday morning she's in a bed, hooked up to oxygen,” he said. 

No children have died during the outbreak of the strain in the U.S. but doctors there say it has caused unusually severe symptoms.

There have been 82 cases of D68 in Canada over the past 15 years and there is no vaccine or antiviral therapy.

Most children recover without lasting problems and treatment includes keeping the child home, administering plenty of fluids and ensuring the child gets rest.