I used to think that when doctors diagnose a virus with its name, it was more helpful to parents. RSV is a good example. Respiratory Syncytial Virus a one that often settles in the chest causing bronchiolitis. There’s a test for it, and like many viral infections, the treatment is the same whether you and your doctor know the name of the virus or not.
Parents hear over and over that they must not use antibiotics for viral infections but rather do the things that support a child’s immune system to fight off viruses. Anti-viral medicines are out there, but they work for very few viruses.
I’m re-thinking the need to name viruses with recent media coverage of the EV-D38 virus… over and over again, in every feature story… for the last few weeks. I’m not seeing parents understand this germ in a good context, and knowledge without context can sometimes create unnecessary worry rather than reassurance.
Driving the kids to soccer practice, I listened to the lead NPR story featuring the outbreak of Enterovirus-D68 (information that was not news to me…) and I had breakfast with a front-page article in the Times-Dispatch about increases in pediatric hospital admissions here in Richmond. At my office, calls from worried parents allowed me to share reassurance as I framed a discussion of ALL viral infections with important advice for keeping kids healthy.
But what I really wanted to give the worriers is some context to understand what they were reading and hearing.
Enterovirus-D68 is not a ‘new’ virus. First named back in the ‘60’s, it hasn’t caused that much trouble, so it’s not as well studied as viruses like influenza, RSV or measles. It very well may circulate frequently causing mild symptoms, but because we don’t test and name every viral infection, we just don’t know. What we do know is that this new EV-D68 strain is making some children very sick. “But what about my child?” you ask. “What is my chance of catching the EV-D68 virus? (It very well may be circulating in the Richmond area, but there aren’t test results yet to prove this.) How serious an infection will it be if one of my family members does catch it? (If your child is otherwise healthy, it is not likely to hospitalize your child.) These are questions that matter, and it’s OK to ask them. I’d like to see the media communicate a balanced context for what we know and don’t know as they cover stories about communicable diseases. Understand and learn more. Worry less.