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Severe respiratory viruses send more Northeast Ohio kids to ER, hospital officials say

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Viruses that are similar to a cold but with more severe symptoms are circulating and causing an uptick in children visiting the ER, University Hospital officials said.

More children are being sent to Northeast Ohio emergency rooms with severe respiratory illnesses caused by a resurgence in two viruses, University Hospitals' (UH) pediatric doctors say.

The increase is being fueled by rhinoviruses (RV) and enteroviruses (EV), which commonly peak in late summer and fall, said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, pediatric infectious disease specialist at UH.

The viruses are similar to a cold but can cause much more severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, heavy wheezing and, in rare cases, weakness in limbs, she said. This year has seen a particularly sharp increase in ER visits.

In August, healthcare providers and hospitals across the country notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there was an uptick in pediatric hospitalizations due to severe respiratory disease caused by the two viruses, according to a CDC media release.

The spike in infections is not happening everywhere, however. Health officials in Akron said they have not seen an increase in emergency room visits due to the viruses, a spokesperson for Akron Children's Hospital said in an email.

Some parts of Northeast Ohio might not be seeing an uptick in infections because children in Northeast Ohio tend to go back to school later than those in other areas of the country, Hoyen explained.

"We could be behind other areas," she said.

A strain of enterovirus, known as EV-D68, is now circulating, according to the CDC. EV normally peaks in the late summer and early fall.

Both EV and RV usually circulate every two years. Cases were particularly low in 2020 because of measures that were in place to combat COVID-19, Hoyen said.

“We were all masked and did not see it,” she said. “Now that everyone is unmasked, this is probably why we’re having more [cases] this fall."

Children with asthma are particularly vulnerable.

"If kids are getting sick in the next couple of weeks and they have a history of asthma, parents want to make sure they are doing everything that their doctors tell them to do for their asthma so they don’t get sicker with this virus," Hoyen said.

Health officials said that if a child develops a cold and seems to have more coughing or more difficulty breathing, they should go to the doctor to make sure they haven’t developed wheezing from this strain of enterovirus.

The CDC has several recommendations for protection against spreading respiratory viruses. They include washing hands often, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and staying home when you are feeling sick.

Parents should also follow up with care providers if their children get sick. The CDC also recommends staying up-to-date with all recommended vaccines.

Tyisha is a reporter/producer for Ideastream Public Media’s health team.