Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TOP STORY >> A virus spreads to state

Leader staff writer

The state Health Department reported on Monday that the Centers for Disease Control had confirmed the first case of enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, in Arkansas.

Local school district officials told The Leader they had not seen an outbreak yet but are taking precautions to prevent kids from getting sick with respiratory illness caused by the virus.

Deb Bostic, chief nursing officer at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville, said the CDC’s most recent data shows there had been 175 confirmed cases in 27 states between mid-August and Monday.

The patients were within the age range of six months to 16 years, with many of them having a medical history of asthma or wheezing similar to asthma, she noted.

Bostic also said 4- to 5-year-olds made up the largest group of patients.

According to the website for All For Kids Pediatric Clinic in Little Rock, “most adults have quite a bit of immunity to enteroviral infections.”

Mild to severe symptoms, Bostic said, include fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing and body/muscle aches that can progress to troubled breathing or wheezing similar to asthma.

She added in an email to The Leader, “We have seen very few patients with these symptoms in recent months.” There has not been a confirmed case of the virus or an uptick in kids coming in with respiratory illnesses at North Metro, Bostic said.

According to a state Health Department news release, EV-D68 is one of many viruses common throughout the country this time of the year, but the current strain of it is causing more illness than expected.

The release also noted that the number of actual cases in Arkansas cannot be tracked because medical providers are not required to report suspected cases to the state Health Department.

State health officials plan to continue monitoring hospital admissions of kids with acute respiratory illnesses and investigating those that suggest EV-D68.

Prevention is key because there is no treatment or vaccine for the virus.

Bostic said those who have already become ill should be treated with bed rest, plenty of fluids and fever control.

She continued, “It is likely to spread person to person by coughing, sneezing or touching a contaminated surface. This means close body contact puts one at risk to contract the virus. Depending on temperature and humidity, the virus can live on surfaces for days. However, it can be killed by common household disinfectants and detergents.”

That is how schools in The Leader’s coverage area have stepped up.

Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook wrote in an email that the district had not heard of any enterovirus cases there.

“We have purchased extra cleaning supplies and talked to our custodial staff about making sure we sanitize everything well. The school nurses always contact the parents when a sick child comes to the nurses’ offices. We hope, by taking the extra precautions, we can keep it out of the schools.”

Vonda Jacobs, the director of nursing for Cabot schools, wrote in her emailed response, “Handwashing is the No. 1 prevention for spreading any virus. School nurses are always reminding and encouraging students to wash their hands and will continue to do so.

“As flu season approaches and now the enterovirus, school nurses will also promote prevention through reminding and encouraging everyone to cover their cough or sneeze, to avoid close contact with people who are sick, to avoid touching their eyes and face and to stay at home while sick.”

She said all schools have access to sanitizing hand gel, too.

Jacobs continued, “Custodial staff are very well trained in cleaning and disinfecting, and the nurses depend heavily on them when they are in need of extra cleaning when any child has presented with viral symptoms.”

She also wrote, “I will send some specifics to each school nurse listing signs/symptoms of the enterovirus, which are not much different than with any other virus.

“The school nurses will take care of the students just as they would at any other time.”

She noted that the nurses are aware of students who have pre-existing lung diseases and would be “proactive” if one of them comes to the nurse’s office with enterovirus symptoms.

Students with a fever of more than 100 degrees will be sent home until they have been free of a fever, without medication, for 24 hours, Jacobs added.

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said there had not been an increase in absences for illness recently and that the district would monitor absences while keeping “a close check” on information provided by the state Health Department.

He also said parents would be notified if absences increase or if there are any reported cases of the virus.

Jacksonville High School nurse Rosiland Hunter said her office had seen students with allergy symptoms.

But none of them seemed to be infected with the enterovirus.

She said information about preventing illnesses, like EV-D68 and the flu, is posted in the bathrooms on campus.

Hunter said the posted information and pamphlets would list enterovirus symptoms and encourage students to report to the nurse’s office if they have any of those symptoms.

She added that she expects the spread of illness to get worse as the weather changes.