- Enterovirus D68 can be spread easily through coughs and sneezes
- Previously rare bug is on the rise but has no anti-viral cure or vaccine
- It’s linked to cases of very young children being left unable to walk
- Paralysis can strike and leaves the worst affected fighting to breathe
Children are at risk from an outbreak of a killer virus similar to polio that can paralyse its victims.
Clusters of children across Britain have fallen victim to enterovirus D68, which is spread easily through coughs and sneezes.
The previously rare bug, which experts say is on the rise, has no anti-viral cure or vaccine.
Killer virus: Clusters of children across Britain have fallen victim to enterovirus D68, which is spread easily through coughs and sneezes (file picture)
It has been linked to cases of very young children being left unable to walk. Paralysis can strike within days and leaves the worst affected fighting to breathe or swallow.
It is understood four young victims are in hospital in Edinburgh, with a boy and primary-aged girl in intensive care for more than a month. All four appeared to have lost use of their limbs.
The presence of a ‘small number’ of patients has been confirmed by officials.
The clusters of cases are small, but Public Health England has published a risk assessment stating the virus is associated with ‘polio-like’ neurological symptoms.
TOT WOKE UP PARALYSED
Unable to walk: Two-year-old Riley Jones
Doctors said two-year-old Riley Jones may never walk again after falling ill with the virus in January.
The toddler, who had symptoms of a chest infection, woke up one day unable to stand – and is now paralysed from the waist down.
His family say he was initially sent home from hospital when doctors were unable to find anything wrong.
They later diagnosed EV-D68, and warned that Riley may be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
His mother Hayley Jones, from Caerphilly in Wales, said: ‘I pray for the day that Riley can walk normally again, that he can run and play football.’
Last year only 14 cases of EV-D68 were detected in the UK, but there have been 38 laboratory-confirmed infections so far this year.
The majority of patients have been admitted to hospital with respiratory problems, with some suffering neurological issues.
While doctors have been notified, affected families fear too little has been done to alert the public.
A source close to the outbreak said: ‘There’s a real concern that the spread of this virus isn’t being made public. GPs need to know that this virus is out there so they can recognise symptoms and make quick referrals.
‘The symptoms seem to start with a sore throat but within a day or so they are left unable to breathe as their muscles stop working and they become floppy. It’s a terrifying disease that leaves a lot of the children permanently paralysed.
‘The health officials seem to be really keen that this is kept secret but parents and doctors need to know.’
Dr Kate Templeton, chairman of NHS Lothian’s incident management team, said: ‘We have been investigating a possible cluster of patients infected with enterovirus D68. The patients are all now testing negative for the virus.’
NHS Lothian also denied that families had been asked not to publicise the disease.
Fears are growing over EV-D68 because of its link to a phenomenon called acute flaccid paralysis which causes patients’ muscles to rapidly weaken.
If the muscles they need to breathe fail, they can die. Children are more vulnerable because they have not built up immunity to such viruses.
Enterovirus causes illnesses including meningitis and polio, which can temporarily paralyse the legs. However the EV-D68 type is a non-polio virus.
Experts investigated it after an outbreak in the US killed 14 people and infected 1,153 between August 2014 and January 2015.
The outbreak in Scotland followed one in Wales over the winter of 2014 and 2015.
Public Health England has confirmed the virus is circulating but said cases are in line with expected numbers.
Many people who contract the virus only ever have mild cold-like symptoms and do not suffer paralysis.
The public are advised to take good hygiene precautions when sneezing/coughing, wash their hands and avoid close contact with people with colds and flu-like illnesses.