The respiratory virus affecting children, which initially alarmed the Midwest earlier this month, is now being investigated in the North Alabama region.
On Sept. 9, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that six specimens from two areas in the state were being tested at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for Enterovirus D68.
One of those areas is Mobile. The other area was cited as North Alabama. According to ADPH, that location is more particularly a zone around Florence in Colbert and Lauderdale counties.
“What we’ve seen in North Alabama is three patients with severe symptoms,” Assistant State Health Officer Karen Landers said. “We’re checking to see if this is actually enterovirus 68.”
Landers is stationed at the Colbert County Department of Public Health, which is Public Health Area 1 in the ADHP’s coverage map.
Cullman County is located in PHA 2, a seven-county region including Cullman, Morgan, Lawrence, Marshall, Limestone, Madison and Jackson counties.
Crystal Page, a member of the field surveillance staff in the ADPH’s epidemiology division, is monitoring those seven counties.
Page said that, while her area — including Cullman County — had no confirmed cases, she was regularly communicating with local hospitals.
“We’re in an heightened alert,” she said. “We’ve increased surveillance, but we’ve had no positive tests.”
Landers said that positive results would not necessarily be followed by a change in procedure.
“The test results won’t change what the doctors will be doing,” she said. “Children with severe symptoms really need to be tested, but the most important message is prevention.”
Landers added that providing the public with “reasonable information” was key in the effort to protect and prevent.
Enterovirus D68 can be protected against in ways similar to fighting the common cold or influenza.
“Standard precautions include hand washing, covering coughs, staying home when sick and sterilizing surfaces and toys,” Landers said.
The age range at risk for the virus is infants to teenagers.
“The CDC is interested in investigating the virus in older ages if there are any,” Landers said.
The symptoms of the respiratory virus are similar to other viral infections. It separates itself from those other infections by inducing asthma-like symptoms, including an extreme shortness of breath, trouble breathing and wheezing.