As children across the Midwest continue to arrive at hospitals with similar symptoms, many suspected to be caused by a rare virus spreading throughout the area, health officials say basic hygiene is the best form of prevention.
Illinois is one of several states with confirmed cases of the uncommon virus, Enterovirus D68, and both Chicago and state health departments have been mobilized.
With the respiratory virus making its way through the Chicago area, city officials at a news conference Thursday couldn’t emphasize handwashing enough.
“We’re working with families and network offices to ensure that all schools and offices across the district have an abundant supply of soap,” said Stephanie Whyte, chief medical officer for Chicago Public Schools.
Whyte said an informational bulletin, detailing the virus symptoms and basic hygiene prevention tips, is being distributed around Chicago schools, though there have been no confirmed cases at CPS schools.
The reminder includes frequent cleaning of toys and doorknobs, keeping cleaning supplies handle, and warning that even healthy children are at risk.
“It’s not just children with asthma but any signs of difficulty breathing are important to acknowledge and contact your healthcare provider about,” said Dr. Julie Morita, the Chicago Department of Public Health’s chief medical officer.
Several area hospitals have implemented visitor restrictions amid the virus outbreak, including Edward Hospital in Naperville, Emhurst Memorial, Advocate Chidlren’s hospitals in Oak Lawn and Park Ridge and Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood have said no visitors under the age of 18 are allowed as that population is most at-risk for the virus.
Experts say they still have a lot to learn about this particularly aggressive strain of the enterovirus.
"This is a relatively unusual enterovirus," said Dr. Stephanie Black, medical director of the communicable disease program of the Chicago Department of Public Health. "We don't know a lot about it, so I can't give you numbers, like what percent of kids who get Enterovirus D68 will develop severe respiratory disease."
The city and state are funneling specimens from the sickest patients in pediatric ICUs to the Centers for Disease Control.
But scientists say it won’t be easy to determine how widespread the virus truly is.