Rare virus catches CDC's eye

It's not a new virus, but doctors need to keep an eye out for one that's not usually on the radar screen, federal health officials said on Thursday. It's called human enterovirus 68, or HEV68, and it can cause an unusually severe type of cold that can even kill in some cases.

The virus has been around for decades, but for some reason it's been causing clusters of serious illness over the past three years, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Three people, two in the Philippines and one in Japan, died from an HEV68 outbreak during 2008-2010, CDC and other scientists report in this week's newsletter on illness and death. There were also several clusters of the virus outbreak in the United States that sent batches of patients to the hospital, including in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.

"HEV68 is not new, but clusters involving large numbers of people with this virus are a recent phenomenon. This may be due in part to improved respiratory diagnostics; however, long-term surveillance at some sites showed that HEV68 was an unusual cause of respiratory illness in other years," according to the CDC report.

"First isolated in California in 1962 from four children with bronchiolitis and pneumonia, HEV68 has been reported rarely since that time and the full spectrum of illness that it can cause is unknown."

Doctors need to be aware of the virus, the CDC said, and report any clusters of unexplained respiratory illness. Telltale symptoms may include sudden wheezing and worsening of asthma, CDC said.

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