Good hygiene, proper sanitation, and consistently following standard precautions in Head Start and Early Head Start reduce health risks to children and adults by limiting the spread of infectious germs. During an outbreak of any infection, these procedures are especially important.
What Is It?
Reports of enterovirus, a severe respiratory illness, are on the rise. Enteroviruses are very common. They cause about 10 to 15 million infections in the U.S. each year. Parents and staff need to be aware of the symptoms and enforce prevention strategies.
Who Is at Risk?
Anyone can become infected with enteroviruses. However, infants, children, and teenagers are more likely to get infected and become sick. That's because they do not yet have the protection which comes from previous exposures to the virus. In the U.S., people are more likely to get infected with enteroviruses in the summer and fall. Most people who become infected with enteroviruses do not get sick, or they may have mild symptoms, similar to the common cold. However, some people can get very sick with an infection of their heart or brain, or even become paralyzed. Infants and people with weakened immune systems have a greater chance of having these complications.
Children who have already been diagnosed with asthma should be sure to follow their asthma action plan. Their health care provider should know the plan as well. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than half of the children with lab-confirmed enterovirus in 2014 have a history of asthma or wheezing. It's important for their asthma to be well treated and controlled.
Pregnant women who are infected with enterovirus shortly before delivery can pass the virus on to their babies. For more information, see Pregnancy & Non-Polio Enterovirus Infection. Mothers who are breastfeeding should talk with their doctor if they are sick or think they may have an infection.
How Is it Spread?
Exposure to the virus may be caused by:
- Close contact, such as touching or shaking hands, with an infected person
- Touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them
- Changing diapers of an infected person
- Drinking water that has the virus in it
If you then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands, you can get infected with the virus and become sick.
What Are Some Prevention Strategies?
There is no vaccine to protect you from enterovirus infection. Since many infected people do not have symptoms, it is difficult to prevent enteroviruses from spreading. Good hygiene and proper infection control are the best defense against infection.
Help protect yourself and others from enterovirus infections by:
- Washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers
- Avoiding close contact, such as touching and shaking hands, with people who are sick
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces
- Staying home when sick or consulting your physician
- Enforcing short-term exclusion policies
Health managers and program staff are encouraged to use the following standards from Caring for Our Children. Share the information with families to help prevent the spread of the enterovirus, as well as other contagious illnesses.
- Standard 3.1.1 Daily Health Check
- Standard 220.127.116.11: Handwashing Procedure
- Standard 18.104.22.168: Cough and Sneeze Etiquette
- Standard 3.3: Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
HealthyChildren.org, the official parenting website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), provides additional information on the enterovirus.
The CDC offers this helpful information on reducing the spread of germs that can cause illness:
For more information from the CDC and to see states with confirmed cases, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/non-polio-enterovirus/index.html
How Is Enterovirus Treated?
Most people infected with an enterovirus will need supportive care for their symptoms. A health care provider should examine any child or individual experiencing severe symptoms, such as any difficulty breathing.
Enterovirus is different from the flu! To minimize confusion with influenza, and to protect against the flu virus, AAP recommends all children ages 6 months and older be vaccinated against influenza at the earliest possible time.