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Rare Virus Strikes Colorado, Children Fill Intensive Care Units

DENVER (CBS4)- It's called human enterovirus 68 and it's responsible for dozens of children across Colorado ending up in the intensive care units of hospitals. It mimics the common cold but within hours those affected are severely ill.

Parents are surprised that within just hours of common cold symptoms their children are left gasping for air and placed on a ventilator in the ICU.

"I remember thinking I was going to die," said 13-year-old Will Cornejo. "Yesterday I felt like I couldn't breathe at all."

Will is still on oxygen and in intensive care but his parents say he's improving.

"He was white as a ghost, his lips were blue, he was completely unconscious at that point," said Will's mother Jennifer Cornejo.

"Sheer terror," said Will's father Matt Cornejo.

They called 911.

"It was the scariest moment of my life because he was surrounded by five paramedics and a police officer," said Matt.

Will had to be airlifted to the hospital.

"At that point we weren't sure he was going to make it," said Jennifer.

In the ICU at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Dr. Raju Meyappan said the virus hasn't shown up in Denver until now.

"We have not seen it in Denver previously," said Meyappan.

What he is seeing is how quickly this virus becomes life threatening especially in children with mild asthma.

"The onset of symptoms was very rapid, usually within hours," said Meyappan.

Will is still weak but his mother can tell he is getting better.

"He's texting, he's doing Instagram," said Jennifer.

"A lot of people were wondering if I died," said Will. "And I wanted to make sure that they didn't think that so I started texting people telling them I wasn't."

"It's kind of shocking to be a few minutes away from possibly dying to being a normal eighth grader," said Matt. "We're very relieved."

Since human enterovirus 68 is a virus, antibiotics don't work. Doctors can only treat the symptoms, helping kids breathe and trying to keep their airways open.

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