(St. Louis) (AP) – Washington University researchers are finding new clues about a rare respiratory virus that caused a recent outbreak among children.
In August, cases of the virus, called enterovirus D68, started being reported in children living in Missouri and Illinois. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47 states have reported illnesses from the virus, which can cause flu-like symptoms and respiratory problems.
Researchers at the university’s Genome Institute have mapped the genetic code of virus samples taken from several children treated at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Their work will help efforts to develop better tests, treatments and potentially a vaccine for the virus.
“Knowing the whole genome sequence is a very important starting point for research,” Dr. Gregory Storch said. “The next thing is that it could be helpful to us in designing better diagnostic tests, and further down the road, it can be very useful for people trying to develop new treatments.”
Storch, a pediatrics professor, helped write a paper on their work in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The virus can be spread through coughing, sneezing and contact with contaminated surfaces. It primarily affects young children and most recover without lasting problems. Health officials say respiratory viruses are reported each summer and fall, but questions were raised over enterovirus D68 because it caused more serious, widespread illnesses.
More than 1,100 cases of enterovirus D68 have been confirmed in the United States since August. Eight children who tested positive for it have died.
“Something has changed about the virus or the way it fits into the community,” Storch said. “It seems to be emerging as a cause of widespread respiratory disease. We don’t know what the future holds, but we may see future outbreaks.”