HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – It's a mysterious respiratory illness causing many children to gasp for breath. Dubbed EV-D68, the enterovirus is now confirmed in the Palmetto State.
On Tuesday evening, DHEC sent out an alert that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's laboratory has confirmed the first cases of the EV-D68 strain in the Upstate region.
Doctors worry it is only a matter of time before they see more cases closer to home.
"Not a lot is known about it. We test for every type of enterovirus and then send it to DHEC for further sub-testing," said Angela Harris, the Infection Preventionist Manager with the Waccamaw Community Hospital.
Harris explained as soon as the CDC saw the enterovirus spreading in nearby states, the Waccamaw Community Hospital notified its staff.
"A mass e-mail was sent out with information on different symptoms, what they need to do, and prevention methods," Harris said.
With two confirmed cases in the Upstate, the Grand Strand Medical Center is also picking up its surveillance, immediately screening each patient.
"We began preparing weeks ago when cases were confirmed in surrounding states. Today, I alerted staff of the confirmed cases in South Carolina, and the possibility of seeing the virus and what to do at this point moving forward," said Winona McLamb RN, CIC, an Infection Preventionist with Grand Strand Medical Center.
McLamb explained the hospital is aggressively tracking symptoms of each patient walking in.
"I take a daily census of each patient, looking at daily infections and symptoms while closely monitoring everyone. It is a backup to the staff on the front line," McLamb said.
An invaluable resource to the hospital while this virus threatens the Palmetto State is the new Pediatric Unit.
"There's no real treatment, antibiotics do not work against the virus, it really is supportive care," explained Dr. Thad Golden with Carolina Health Specialists.
Dr. Golden works with the hospital, and suggested parents keep children hydrated, treat their fever, and monitor any wheezing.
"Even with those patients that don't have asthma, they get asthmatic symptoms and may need an inhaler," Dr. Golden said.
While local hospitals are taking preventative measures, so are local schools. Horry County Schools have not yet sent letters home to parents, but spokesperson Teal Harding said the staff has been brought up to speed on symptoms to watch out for.
"It is one that was rarely seen, there were only 20 or 30 cases since it first came on scene," said Dr. Karen Aguirre, the Associate Dean with CCU's College of Science.
The CDC believes EV-D68 was first seen in 1962. This year there have been more than 200 cases nationwide.
"Sometimes a strand can mutate to act differently, but we don't have any evidence this has happened," Dr. Aguirre said.
If a case is confirmed, McLamb explained Grand Strand Medical Center will immediately separate the affected child from other patients, will treat the symptoms and work hand-in-hand with DHEC to test the strain of virus.
While doctors urge you to talk to your children about practicing good hand hygiene, infection preventionists warn hand sanitizer may not kill the germs.
"The alcohol-based does not work as well as good ol' soap and water," Harris said.
Dr. Golden does not believe there is any long-term effect of the virus, and if treated properly, it should run its course like a typical cold.