World

Enterovirus D68 virus caused New Jersey boy's death

A virus that has been causing severe respiratory illness a number of children is responsible for the death of a four-year-old boy, a New Jersey state medical examiner determined.

Cases of respiratory virus EV-D68 in Canada continue to rise

Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children has had seven confirmed cases of EV-D68 since late August. A toddler in Michigan stricken with Enterovirus D68 died on Friday. (CBC)

A virus that has been causing severe respiratory illness a number of children is responsible for the death of a four-year-old boy, a New Jersey state medical examiner determined.

Hamilton Township health officer Jeff Plunkett said the Mercer County medical examiner's office found the death of Eli Waller was the result of enterovirus 68. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this week that four people infected with the virus had died, but it's unclear what role the virus played in the deaths.

Some children are especially vulnerable to infection because of pre-existing conditions, though the medical examiner said that was not the case in the New Jersey boy's death. Most of the severe cases nationwide have involved children because they generally have not been exposed to enteroviruses as often as adults have and are less likely to have developed immunity to them, officials say.

Symptoms to watch for:

  • Stiff neck.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • High fever.
  • A child not acting like themselves.

Township officials said the boy's parents have asked for privacy.

"When you're given the news that a virus was the cause of death to your child, of course they were saddened, even more so because they won't get the answers or closure they need," Mayor Kelly Yaede said. "The mother said, `We will never find out where he contracted this."'

The enterovirus germ is not new; most people who catch the virus experience only a runny nose and low-grade fever. It was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before.

This year, the virus has gotten more attention because it has been linked to hundreds of severe illnesses.

The virus has sickened more than 500 people in 43 states and Washington, D.C. — almost all of them children. In Canada, there have been dozens of confirmed cases of EV-D68, which usually causes only mild cold symptoms but in a small number of infected children can cause polio-like symptoms.

On Monday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control confirmed another child tested positive for enterovirus D68 in the province, bringing the total number of cases to nine.

Centre spokeswoman Danuta Skowronski says six of the patients are less than 10 years old, three of them are between 10 and 19 and seven of them are boys.

Alberta Health Services says it's investigating four cases of paralysis in children, but the patients have not been diagnosed with Enterovirus D68. Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief medical officer of health, says it's not uncommon for the respiratory virus EV-D68 to cause mild inflammation of the spinal cord, which can cause temporary paralysis.

To reduce exposure to Enterovirus D68, people are recommended to:

  • Wash their hands on a regular basis.
  • Keep their hands away from their face.
  • Avoid people who are sneezing or coughing.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

If a child is exhibiting signs of extreme muscle weakness, contact a doctor immediately.

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