Ohio Department of Health looks into respiratory illness increase in children


U.S. Map showing states with suspected outbreaks of Enterovirus. MCT Campus.

Mackenzie Wallace

A rare respiratory virus that has possibly hit at least 12 states and continues to spread could be affecting young children and those who have asthma.

The Portage County Health Department said Ohio does not have any positive tests for the Enterovirus D68 — known as EV-D68 — at this time, but people need to be paying attention to their symptoms if they’re sick.

“If your child is having difficulty breathing, get them to the hospital immediately so they can get the help they need,” said Rose Ferraro, director of nursing at the health department.

Enteroviruses are common viruses, but EV-D68 causes mild to severe respiratory illnesses, some of which require hospitalization. What starts as a common cold escalates quickly into symptoms that include fever, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and severe asthma symptoms.

The virus is mostly affecting children, but that doesn’t mean students and adults are immune to it. People who are around children are susceptible to catching the virus, as well as those who have asthma or a weakened immune system, as it is spread through close contact with infected people or infected surfaces, according to a Sept. 12 press release from the Ohio Department of Health. 

“Everyone needs to be aware of this no matter their age, especially if they are around kids,” Ferraro said. “This virus isn’t some new thing we’re having to deal with — it’s been around since 1962 — but everyone needs to know about it.“

Ferraro said asthmatics know when they can’t breathe, but it’s a little more complicated for children because they don’t always know when they need to seek medical treatment. She said asthmatics must take their medications and parents need to pay attention to their kids, especially if they have asthma.

“I worry because I have asthma, and we have children here with asthma that we give breathing treatments to now,” said Cynthia Cleary, an education specialist and lead teacher at Kent’s Childcare Development Center. “So I do worry about their health. Even kids who have a compromised immune system, they should stay away from grocery stores and Wal-Mart, places like that, and we tell the parents that. I even tell them to wipe down the cart handless.”

Ferraro said hand washing is very important to stop the spread of the virus.

“Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after changing a diaper,” she said. “Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth especially. Avoid hugging, kissing, sharing cups or drinking after people, things like that. Clean toys and doorknobs.”

Cleary said she isn’t afraid of EV-D68 because “there’s always something going around,” but said everyone needs to be prepared.

“If a kid has a fever, a cough and is having trouble breathing, that’s a concern and something needs to be done about it,” Cleary said. “If their symptoms are serious, we will call the parent and send them home.” 

The Childcare Development Center requires children to be fever-free for 24 hours without an aid before they are allowed to return to school or daycare, and parents should let the teachers know if his or her child hasn’t been feeling well or just got over an illness.

“We can’t really wear masks all day, every day, although sometimes I wish we could,” Cleary said. “It’s important to do what we can and the main thing is cleanliness. Wash our hands, clean the toys and just wash everything.”

Becky Lehman, director of health education and promotion for the Portage County Health Department, said not only families, but also college students should take precautions now to avoid the virus as flu season approaches.

“Get your flu shot! Disinfecting things is important,” she said. “This is something that should be known campus wide. Wipe down the doorknobs and computer screens, keyboards, anything people are constantly in contact with.”

Hospital/Medical Center Address Telephone Number Distance from Kent State
Deweese Health Center 1500 Eastway Drive
Kent, OH 44242
330-672-2322 Located on campus
Robinson Memorial Hospital 6847 North Chestnut St.
Ravenna, Ohio 44266
Emergency Services
7 miles, 12 minutes
Akron General Medical Center 1 Akron General Ave.
Akron, Ohio 44307
330-344-6000 17 miles, 23 minutes
Akron General Health & Wellness Center – North 4300 Allen Road
Stow, Ohio 44224
24-hour Emergency Room
10 miles, 17 minutes

Contact Mackenzie Wallace at [email protected]