PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CBS Connecticut/AP) — The Rhode Island Health Department says a child has died from complications of an unusual respiratory virus that has been affecting children across the U.S.
Health officials said Wednesday that the 10-year-old girl died last week of a staph infection associated with the enterovirus 68 infection, which it called “a very rare combination.”
“We are all heartbroken to hear about the death of one of Rhode Island’s children,” Dr. Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, said in a statement. “Many of us will have EV-D68. Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely. The vast majority of children exposed to EV-D68 recover completely.”
The Valley Breeze identified the girl as 10-year-old Emily Ortrando.
Fine says the girl was from Cumberland and was taken to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence when her parents noticed she was having trouble breathing.
Department spokeswoman Christina Batastini says there have been no deaths in Rhode Island directly attributed to enterovirus 68. She said she could not say where the child lived or was treated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus has been confirmed in 472 people in 41 states and the District of Columbia. So far, no deaths have been attributed to the virus.
The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. The strain isn’t new but it’s rarely seen.
In Colorado health officials are investigating nine cases of muscle weakness or paralysis due to the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week sent doctors an alert about the polio-like cases and said the germ — enterovirus 68 — was detected in four out of eight of the sick children who had a certain medical test. The status of the ninth case is unclear.
The virus can cause paralysis but other germs can, too. Health officials don’t know whether the virus caused any of the children’s arm and leg weaknesses or whether it’s just a germ they coincidentally picked up.
“That’s why we want more information,” and for doctors to report similar cases, said the CDC’s Dr. Jane Seward.
The cases occurred within the last two months. All nine children are being treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, and most are from the Denver area. A hospital spokeswoman said the patients’ families didn’t want to talk to the media.
The nine children had fever and respiratory illness about two weeks before developing varying degrees of limb weakness. None seems to have a weak immune system or other conditions that might predispose them to severe illness, but the cases are still being investigated, Seward said. Investigators don’t think it’s polio — eight of the nine children are up to date on polio vaccinations. It’s not known whether the limb weakness or paralysis is temporary or will be long-lasting.
The cases come amid an unusual wave of severe respiratory illness from enterovirus 68. The germ is not new — it was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before, including in Georgia and Pennsylvania in 2009 and Arizona in 2010. Because it’s not routinely tested for, it’s possible the bug spread in previous years but was never distinguished from colds caused by other germs.
This year, the virus has gotten more attention because it has been linked to hundreds of severe illnesses. Beginning last month, a flood of sick children began to hit hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri, and Chicago — kids with trouble breathing, some needing oxygen or more extreme care such as a breathing machine. Many — but not all — had asthma before the infection.
“And then it can become a persistent infection in the lungs,” infectious disease expert John Chia told CBS Los Angeles. “Or it can go through the blood stream and reach the central nervous system. That’s how I think poliomyelitis occurred in those cases.”
The CDC has been testing a limited number of specimens from very sick children around the country, and as of Thursday reported 277 people in 40 states and the District of Columbia with enterovirus 68.
Health officials know enterovirus can cause paralysis. Published reports count at least two people in the U.S. who were paralyzed and were found to have the virus in their spinal fluid. One was a New Hampshire 5-year-old in 2008; details are scant on the second case, a young adult, which happened many years earlier.
Earlier this year, Stanford University researchers said they had identified polio-like illnesses in about 20 California children over about 18 months. Two tested positive for enterovirus 68. CDC officials say it’s still not clear if the virus was a factor in those cases.
Paralysis is a rare complication of enterovirus 68 infection, but with so many more cases of enterovirus being reported this year, it may not be surprising to see that problem, said Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The CDC is asking doctors to report patients 21 or younger who developed limb weakness since August 1 and who have had an MRI exam that showed abnormalities in the nerve tissue in the spinal cord.
Seward said a test that showed the germ in a patient’s spinal fluid would be good evidence that the virus was causing paralysis. Unfortunately, lab tests of spinal fluid often fail to identify bugs like enterovirus 68, even if they’re present, she added.
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