Pinkeye Was Only Symptom in Child Killed by Enterovirus

A New Jersey preschooler killed last month by a respiratory virus that is spreading across the U.S. showed symptoms only of pinkeye before he died in his sleep, health officials said.

Four-year-old Eli Waller, of Hamilton Township, was kept home from school by his mother on Wednesday, Sept. 23, because he was developing a little bit of pinkeye, said Jeff Plunkett, the health officer for the township. He was otherwise fine and had been in school on Sept. 21 and 22.

Waller, a triplet with two sisters, never woke up.

“Between the time his mom put him to bed Wednesday night and when she went to wake him up on Thursday morning, he passed,” Plunkett said in a telephone interview yesterday. “He had no other symptoms whatsoever.”

The Mercer County medical examiner’s office on Oct. 4 listed Waller’s cause of death as Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, a virus that reemerged in the U.S. in August and has spread to at least 43 states. It can be particularly hard-hitting, and has put hundreds of children in the hospital with breathing difficulties and caused paralysis in dozens more.

The virus has been documented in the deaths of four people so far in the U.S., based on testing by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s not entirely clear what role the virus played in those deaths. A 10-year-old girl from Rhode Island who died in late September was the first reported fatality linked to the disease.

The U.S. is in the middle of the enterovirus season, though it is expected to ease later in the fall, the CDC said Oct. 3. The relatively rare D68 strain appears to be the dominant type of enterovirus circulating this year and may be contributing to the increase in severe respiratory illness, the agency said.

There are no special methods to treat or prevent EV-D68, Plunkett said. People should follow typical hand hygiene practices, such as covering their coughs, washing hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds several times a day, and staying home when feeling unwell.

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