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Life-Threatening Enterovirus Confirmed In Colorado

DENVER (CBS4) - A respiratory virus is getting hundreds of children sick across the Midwest and has now been confirmed in Colorado.

The human enterovirus 68 starts out as a common cold but it can quickly turn life-threatening.

Will Cornejo
Will Cornejo (credit: CBS)

An official with Children's Hospital told CBS4 that from about mid-August to early September they've treated more than 900 children for serious respiratory issues. Eighty-six of those patients had to be hospitalized.

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center has an entire floor full with sick children.

Children's Hospital sent samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm whether the cases are the enterovirus and they were confirmed on Monday.

The symptoms are similar to a common cold but can be more severe such as runny nose, fevers and trouble breathing. Officials say in many of the cases patients already have asthma.

Colorado is just one of about 10 states where the virus is suspected. Cases in Missouri have also been confirmed.

Hospitals tend to see the symptoms around this time of year as children are returning to school. Doctors say the virus is spread much like a cold is and say there's no treatment or vaccine. They're urging prevention as the best tool against the drug and encourage everyone to wash hands, avoid sick people, keep asthma under control and get vaccinated for the fly and whooping cough.

Because of the cases at Children's Hospital a spokeswoman said they've now restricted their visitation policy for the safety of their patients and the public.

The Morgridge Academy at National Jewish Health is a school for children with asthma and other chronic illnesses. The severe respiratory illness has hit the school especially hard. Nurse Amy Schouten has sent at least a dozen students home since the end of August. The children may feel fine in the morning, but by the afternoon they have a hard time breathing.

"They just are crumbling right in front of us, difficult to breathe, they're having the wheezing," Schouten said.

That's what happened with Matthew York, 12, now in intensive care at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. He suffers from mild asthma and last Friday his parents thought he had a cold.

"I woke about 1 a.m. and told my mom that I couldn't breathe," Matthew York said.

"He had his hand on the bed, hunched over, and his chest was pumping in and out," father Ben York said.

"I personally thought I was going to die," Matthew York said.

Dr. Tracy Butler agrees this virus is frightening.

"If they quit breathing and there isn't somebody who can take over their breathing it is fatal," Butler said. "If your child starts wheezing and can't breathe get him medical care as soon as possible."

The state health department doesn't keep exact numbers on enterovirus cases unlike diseases such as West Nile virus or measles.

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