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Parents Beware: Outbreak 'Tip of the Iceberg'

Just as kids are beginning the new school year, a respiratory virus is sweeping the nation and it's expected to get worse. So far hundreds of children have been hospitalized, and the Centers for Disease Control say we will likely see many more.

Mark Pallansch, a virologist and director of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases said this may be "just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases."

So far, there are no reported deaths from the mysterious virus. Children's hospitals in the affected areas are reporting an average of a 15 percent increase in respiratory admissions.

The virus has been identified as Enterovirus D68. What's so baffling about this outbreak is that this particular strain of virus usually strikes in the bowels. This time, however, it's affecting the respiratory system, which is particularly dangerous for the millions of children who suffer from asthma.

Parents of children who have asthma or any other chronic condition, such as diabetes, need to be on high alert, as these children are most at risk for developing complications from EV D68. In fact, most of the patients admitted to the hospital already have asthma.

Infants, children, and teenagers are most likely to get infected with the EV D68 and become sick. The virus usually starts like the common cold. Symptoms include a cough, runny nose, and sneezing. But some young people will get a severe cough and have difficulty breathing and begin wheezing.

If this happens, parents should seek medical attention. They should also seek help if their child develops a fever or rash.

So far the virus is being seen mostly in the midwest, but the CDC says the outbreak is "unpredictable" and is "evolving." Twelve states have reported EV D68 outbreaks: Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Utah.

Since this is a virus, there is no specific treatment. Plenty of rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medications will help ease symptoms in standard cases.

Patients who are hospitalized will likely receive assistance breathing and what's called "supportive therapy" to help their immune systems fight off the infection.

This virus spreads through close contact, much like the common cold. Parents are advised to teach their children basic hygiene.

The best prevention against bacterial and viral infections is to wash hands thoroughly (lathering for 20 seconds, or the time that it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice) and use hand sanitizer.

Clean and disinfect surfaces that are often touched, such as door knobs, television remotes, and kitchen items. Viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to two days.

Hugging, kissing, even shaking hands can spread the virus. Children should be taught not to share glasses and cups as well as silverware, and should avoid touching their mouth, eyes, or nose with unwashed hands.

Parents with sick children should keep them home to prevent spreading the virus.