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Suspected Enterovirus Outbreak Widens In Northwest

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Public health authorities in Washington and Idaho are now investigating at least 79 cases of a serious respiratory illness that affects children.

The widening disease outbreak is suspected - but not confirmed - to be enterovirus D68 a rare strain of the virus.

In Washington state, at least 64 children have been hospitalized since last week with breathing difficulties. Cases now span the state from Seattle to Spokane.

Idaho has a cluster of 15 suspected cases. Those children were hospitalized in Idaho Falls, but most have since been discharged. Oregon doctors are on guard, but so far haven't seen anything.

Enterovirus symptoms resemble the common cold. In a small percentage of cases, Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said the sickness worsens into breathing problems or wheezing.

"Anyone with respiratory problems should contact their doctor if they are having difficulty breathing or their symptoms are getting worse," she said.

There is a lag in getting lab confirmation of the enterovirus strain back from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But treatment is the same regardless. There is no vaccine for this illness.

"People with asthma seem to be at higher risk of severe infection with this particular virus," Lofy observed. She said young people in that situation should therefore be sure to take all of their prescribed medications to ensure "their asthma is well controlled."

Other prevention tips echo things your mother or boss might tell you any time. Dr. Richard Leman of the Oregon Health Authority advises people to wash their hands, cover their cough, and stay home when they are sick.

No children are known to have died from enterovirus D68 in the West this summer.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.