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Respiratory Disease Affects Hundreds Of U.S. Kids

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

American parents are worrying about a respiratory disease. The CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says there have been more than 200 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68. Now let's be clear, we were just talking about Ebola. This is not Ebola. No one has died, but the virus can make it hard to breathe. We talk through the basics with Mark Pallansch of the CDC's viral diseases division.

MARK PALLANSCH: There are probably literally millions of people who have become infected with this virus. They have gotten a cold or just don't feel well for a few days and get over it, never know they really had something. Then there are others who will develop the respiratory disease, and what we're investigating now is why do some individuals get the severe manifestation.

INSKEEP: How many people have had the severe respiratory illness you described?

PALLANSCH: So that's the part that we're still collecting data, because of the labor-intensive nature of the testing we're behind if you will on testing specimens. Our main focus at the moment is trying to get a handle on how many states are affected. And at this point I think it is fair to assume that most states in the United States will eventually be shown to be affected.

INSKEEP: Of the 200 and some cases that you've confirmed are they all children?

PALLANSCH: So almost all of them are children, and again that is the focus of where the age group is that is being tested.

INSKEEP: Other than nearly all being children do the people you've confirmed have this illness have anything else in common?

PALLANSCH: So the biggest risk factor that we've identified so far is children with asthma are at particular risk for severe illness. We are now trying at get more specifics, and why this virus at this time with these children.

INSKEEP: How worried are you?

PALLANSCH: So, I mean, the spectrum of illness includes severe disease. At this point we don't see a pattern which indicates that this virus is behaving different than other Enteroviruses, therefore it will run through the season. And as winter comes the rate of disease from this virus will go down.

INSKEEP: Do you have any idea why this particular type of virus has gotten so much attention?

PALLANSCH: Well, one, it is different. Even though it's been known for 50 years, it has caused less than 100 reports during that time up until a few years ago when, because of changes in diagnostic methods, we're able to see this virus. So what appears to be new, but may not actually be new.

INSKEEP: So as you try to figure out more broadly what is going on here what is the worst-case scenario in your mind?

PALLANSCH: So, for Enteroviruses I think the worst-case scenario is if the spectrum of illness changes so that all of the sudden something that 99 percent of people have a mild illness changes from that to something where 10 percent of people get severely ill...

INSKEEP: And that's enough that you would have a lot of really sick people?

PALLANSCH: Exactly.

INSKEEP: What would you tell parents to do?

PALLANSCH: So I think with the group that is a known risk, the asthma children, I think that they should be aware of trying to minimize children's exposures. There are standard recommendations - washing hands and avoiding crowds of sick children and things like that. The general population can do the same thing, particularly with young children, you can not only keep them less contact with other sick children, but you can actively disinfect toys or surfaces that they come in contact routinely.

INSKEEP: Doctor Pallansch, thanks very much.

PALLANSCH: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: That's Mark Pallansch of the CDC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.