Enterovirus season in Michigan, health department weighs in

Posted at 10:38 PM, Jul 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-14 22:38:54-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- You might have noticed some extra coughing around the office, or maybe you are experiencing it yourself. Experts are saying that enterovirus is making its way across the state. Its symptoms are very similar to the common cold.

Most people expect to get sick during the flu season and cold winter months, but enterovirus is going around this summer. It can have a hundred different strains, says Brian Hartl at the Kent County Health Department, so fighting it off with antibiotics is nearly impossible.

"We saw some spikes locally in respiratory infections, but then again, a lot of physicians didn't even test for it last year," said Hartl. "It's a really mild illness, and it causes common cold symptoms so, you know, a lot of people aren't going to go to the physician or E-R for that kind of thing."

Therefore, most cases of the virus never go reported unless the situation becomes severe.

"If you have a kid with asthma and they do get sick and they end up having trouble breathing or their breathing is labored more, that's when you want to go see a physician, but overall enterovirus infections are relatively mild," said Hartl.

The good news is that kids aren't in school, Hartl said. If they were, the virus would spread more quickly. Young people are the most at risk.

"That's the biggest thing to think about is that these types of illnesses tend to affect kids more than older adults: Infants, children, teenagers. Because they haven't built up immunity to them."

The Kent County Health Department said that the elderly can also be more affected if they suffer from an immune deficiency.

The virus can also spread easily from one person to the next, so the health department if offering up some simple tips as reminders to keep yourself protected.

"Washing your hands, staying home from school and work when you are sick," said Hartl. "Not touching your eyes or your mouth or your nose."

While being sick during Michigan's warmest months isn't ideal, Hartl said, it's important to remember that viruses don't just spread during the winter.

The Centers for Disease Control says that cases of enterovirus were relatively low for decades until last year when more than a thousand people in 49 states were diagnosed. But the CDC believes millions of cases went undetected since not everyone sees a doctor for their symptoms.

The Kent County Health Department also said that they've checked in with area hospitals but have not noticed a spike in respiratory illnesses this week.