ATLANTA, GA — A virus that causes respiratory illness and, in severe cases, muscle weakness and partial paralysis is infecting a growing number of U.S. children, according to a recent alert issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC issued the warning about enterovirus D68, one of more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses that most commonly infect infants, children, and teenagers. Polio is also a known enterovirus.
The warning came after health care providers and hospitals in several regions of the United States notified the CDC last month of an increase in hospitalizations among children with severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68.
The number of cases is the most seen since 2018 when the agency tracked the last wave of infections caused by the virus, CBS News reported.
Enterovirus D68 cases typically peak in the late summer and early fall, according to the CDC. Officials are expecting cases to increase in the coming weeks.
Enterovirus D68 is considered "very common," according to the CDC, with most infections causing no symptoms or only mild symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, cough, body aches, and muscle aches. Severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing.
The virus typically is found in saliva and nasal mucus and spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches a surface that is then touched by others, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine to protect against enterovirus.
While the virus tends to fill hospital beds each year, the number of cases dropped when COVID-19 mitigation measures were put in place.
"We wrote papers about how we should expect it to come back in 2020, and we were bracing and prepared for it, and lo and behold the whole world changes with COVID," Dr. Kevin Messacar of Children's Hospital Colorado told CBS News.
So far this year, the CDC has recorded more enterovirus D68 cases among children with severe respiratory illness than in the past three years combined. There were 84 cases from March through Aug. 4, according to an NBC News report. By comparison, the CDC identified six cases in 2019, 30 in 2020, and 16 in 2021.
While most cases are mild, enterovirus D68 is also known to cause acute flaccid myelitis, a rare but serious neurologic complication involving limb weakness that primarily affects children. Partial paralysis similar to that caused by polio is also a rare complication.
The CDC has not reported an increase in the prevalence of acute flaccid myelitis this year; however, as the virus continues to spread, it's possible the number of acute flaccid myelitis cases will also increase.
As the virus spread in 2018, 238 reports of acute flaccid myelitis were recorded by the CDC. During a 2014 outbreak, around 10 percent of people diagnosed with D68 went on to develop acute flaccid myelitis, NBC News reported