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What Is Enterovirus D68?

There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses, which cause 10 million to 15 million infections in the U.S. each year. These germs multiply in your intestines, and they cause many different illnesses. Enterovirus D68 mainly causes respiratory symptoms. Children tend to be more affected than adults.

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Enterovirus D68 Symptoms

Symptoms of enterovirus D68 can range from mild to severe. The most common ones include:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Body aches

In more severe cases, enterovirus D68 may cause wheezing and trouble breathing.

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How Dangerous Is It?

Enterovirus D68 seems to be very contagious. It is usually not serious, although there have been severe cases. Young children with asthma or other breathing problems can have complications. If a child (or adult) has trouble breathing, he may need to be hospitalized and may even need intensive care.

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Rare but Extreme Cases

In very few cases, enterovirus D68 causes paralysis, similar to what would happen with polio, and even some deaths. Experts are still investigating to try to better understand any role the virus may have played in these cases. Enterovirus D68 is a "non-polio" enterovirus.

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Common Myths

Enterovirus D68 isn't a new virus. Scientists first identified it about 50 years ago. Some people are worried because they believe that enterovirus D68 always causes severe symptoms. But it usually leads to nothing more than congestion, coughing, and a runny nose. Most people who get it don't even know that it's something other than a typical cold.

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Is It Enterovirus D68 or the Flu?

The symptoms of enterovirus D68 and the flu can be similar. The only way for a doctor to confirm enterovirus D68 is to order specific lab tests, which he probably won't do unless the symptoms are severe. There is no vaccine that protects against enterovirus D68, but simple things like washing your hands can help prevent infection.

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How It Spreads

You catch enterovirus D68 the same way you catch a run-of-the-mill cold: by coming into contact with someone who's infected, especially if that person coughs or sneezes on you, or if you touch an infected surface.

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How Long Does It Last?

Most people who have enterovirus D68 will be sick for about a week. But the virus can stay in their body for several weeks. That means they can make other people sick even after they're better.

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What Helps You Feel Better

There aren't any medications that specifically treat enterovirus D68. If you or your child do become sick, your best bet is to get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to relieve aches and treat fevers.

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Treating Severe Symptoms

If the symptoms seem to be worse than the common cold, it's smart to call your doctor. Wheezing or trouble breathing are serious signs that need a doctor's attention right away. Some cases need to be treated at a hospital.

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Can You Prevent It?

The best way to avoid catching enterovirus D68 is to use common sense. Stay away from anyone who's sick, and don't hug, kiss, or share food with them. Encourage your child to wash her hands often with soap and water (scrub for 20 seconds) and not touch her face. Regularly disinfect surfaces that many people handle, such as toys and doorknobs. 

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Extra Protection

Kids with asthma are the most likely to have severe side effects. If your child has asthma and gets cold symptoms, watch to see if he wheezes, is short of breath, needs to use a rescue inhaler more often, or coughs more at night. If he’s not eating or drinking well, it may be another sign that he’s having trouble breathing. Call the doctor right away if you notice any of these things.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/23/2019 Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 23, 2019

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SOURCES:

CDC: "Non-Polio Enterovirus Overview," "Non-Polio Enterovirus: Enterovirus D68," "Enterovirus D68 in the United States, 2014," Non-Polio Enterovirus: Transmission," "Enterovirus D68 Infographic."

Healthy Children.org: "Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease."

Children's Hospital St. Louis: "Enterovirus: taking the myths out of the mystery virus."

Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department: "Fact Sheets: Enterovirus D-68."

American Academy of Family Physicians.

American Lung Association: "Enterovirus D68 - What You Need to Know - Updated."

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 23, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.