By Sabina Mollot
Amidst the spreading of a serious respiratory illness in 18 states so far, including New York, last week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer urged the Center for Disease Control to provide more resources to local hospitals in the face of Enterovirus D68 as well as resources to help spread awareness about it.
Twelve children have contracted the virus in New York State so far, including one resident of New York City. There have been a total of 153 confirmed cases of the virus in 18 states between August and September 18 and the virus is suspected of causing the death of a New Jersey pre-schooler. Part of the problem, Schumer noted is that at first, the virus may appear to be a cold which can then lead to more serious symptoms that can lead to hospitalization.
However, this week, the director of infection control and prevention at NYU Langone, Michael Phillips, MD, said that while New Yorkers should always be vigilant about any threat to their health, statistically, catching the flu is still a far bigger risk than D68.
“What captures people’s attention is when there’s a new, novel infection out there, people wonder, ‘Am I and my loved ones at risk?’,” he said.
Phillips added that while conditions like D68 and even ebola are currently a cause for concern for healthcare practitioners, for the community, the hospital’s main goal is prevention the spread of the flu.
“I think the flu for sure is a constant and has a devastating toll in the community,” he said. “We have vaccines and they’re underutilized. We had an unpredictable season last year and one of the things you can say about the flu each year is that it’s unpredictable.”
Last year, what was unusual in flu patterns was that people were coming down with it late in the season, even April, as much as they were around the holidays. Then, there was an outbreak of measles in the spring, and, noted Phillips, there’s always a risk of transmission when people aren’t getting immunized.
While some people are wary of getting the flu shot, Phillips is a staunch believer in its effectiveness.
“Everything has a potential side effect, but the vaccine is one of the incredible advances in health care,” he said. “No vaccine is 100 percent, but you’re not just protecting yourself. You’re protecting others around you who are not able to get it or for whom it’s not working as well as it should.”
For this reason, he recommends everyone over the age of six months old gets it.
As for the possibility of contracting D68 or another enterovirus, Phillips noted that the circulation of enteroviruses tends to slow down as the weather gets cooler.
There are at any given time, over 100 types of enterovirus. As far as D68 is concerned, not everyone who contracts is necessarily going to end up in the hospital. (NYU Langone has yet to see any cases.)
“Some people will find that it’s mild, like a summer flu or cold,” he said, while noting for others it’s more severe, causing serious infections. “These are things that might lead to limb paralysis, a severe infection.”
But, he still added, that while the hospital is focused on D68 it’s “not in our community” and area residents’ main concerns should still be on “basic health.”