SAN FRANCISCO — At least 14 children in California recently have been infected with a virus that has caused hundreds of respiratory illnesses and possibly several deaths nationwide, public health officials said Friday.
The children infected with enterovirus D68 range in age from a few months to 15 years old, and one of them, a resident of Los Angeles County, also developed acute flaccid paralysis, but whether the germ caused the child's muscle weakness has not been determined, said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez.
"Because EV-D68 was found in respiratory specimens from these patients, it is not known whether EV-D68 was a cause of paralysis or a coincidental finding," Chavez added.
In their investigation, health officials identified 35 other patients with paralysis and spinal cord problems since 2012, and of those, three had enterovirus D68, including two cases reported in 2012 and the child who got sick this year in Los Angeles County, Chavez said.
As of Wednesday, the new cases had been detected in eight of California's 58 counties. San Diego county has reported five cases, Alameda and Los Angeles counties have detected two each, and one case has been reported in each of the counties of Riverside, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Solano and Ventura.
All of the patients have recovered or are recuperating, said Dr. James Watt, chief of the California Department of Public Health's communicable disease control division.
The 14 cases detected this year came from a pool of 140 samples turned in by doctors from throughout the state's intensive care units and tested at public health laboratories. Another 40 samples remain to be tested for enterovirus D68 and officials expect to keep receiving specimens, Watt said.
Enterovirus D68 can cause mild to severe respiratory illness and can attack the nervous system in severe cases. There's no vaccine or specific treatment, and symptoms include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. Some children have more serious illness with breathing difficulty and wheezing, especially children with a history of asthma.
More than 500 cases have been reported in 43 states. Four people with the virus have died, although it's unclear what role the germ played.