A new coronavirus appears to be causing a pneumonia-like illness in China. It is certainly a zoonotic infection – jumping from non-human animals to humans – as exemplified by previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS coronaviruses.
This week I attended the Nipah Virus International Conference in Singapore, marking the discovery of the virus 20 years ago. Itâ€™s an opportune time to recall the events around the emergence of this deadly pathogen.
An outbreak of respiratory disease caused by enterovirus D68 began in August of this year with clusters of cases in Missouri and Illinois. Since then 691 infections have been confirmed in 46Â statesÂ in the US.
The number of confirmed infections is likely to increase in the coming weeks, as CDC has developed a more rapid diagnostic test. Previously it was necessary to amplify the viral genome by polymerase chain reaction, followed by nucleotide sequencing to determine the identity of the agent. The new test utilizes real time, reverse transcription PCR which is specific for the EV-D68 strains that have been circulating this summer.
Since its discovery in California in 1962, EV-D68Â has been rarely reportedÂ in the United States (there were 26 isolations from 1970-2005). Beginning in 2009 it was more frequently linked to respiratory disease outbreaks in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. It seems likely that the virus was always circulating, but we never specifically looked for it.
The current EV-D68 outbreak is the largest ever reported in North America. Enterovirus infections are not rare – there are millions every year in the US – but why EV-D68 has been so frequently isolated this year is unknown. One possibility is that the CDC, after the initial outbreak in August 2014, began looking specifically for the virus.
Sequence analysis of the EV-D68 viral genomes indicate that 3 different strains are involved in the US outbreak. These viruses are related to EV-D68 strains that have previously circulated in the US, Europe, and Asia. The sequences are available at GenBank as follows: US-IL-14/18952, US-KY-14/18951, US-MO-14/18950, US-MO-14/18949, US-MO-14/18948, US-MO-14/18947, and US-MO-14/18946.
Most of the illness caused by EV-D68 in the US has been respiratory disease, mainly in children.Â Five of the 691 confirmed EV-D68 cases were fatal, but whether the virus was responsibleÂ is not known.
There have also been some cases of polio-like illness in children in several states associated with EV-D68. In Colorado the virus was isolated from four of 10 children withÂ partial paralysis and limb weakness. Previously there had beenÂ one report of anÂ association of EV-D68 with central nervous system disease. In this case viral nucleic acids were detected in cerebrospinal fluid. EV-D68 probably does notÂ replicate in the human intestinal tract because the virus is inactivated byÂ low pH. If the virus does enter the central nervous system, it may do soÂ after first replicating in the respiratory tract, and thenÂ entering theÂ bloodstream.
There areÂ no vaccines or antivirals to prevent or treat EV-D68 infection. Most infections will resolve without intervention save for assistance withÂ breathing. As the fall ends in North America, so will infections with thisÂ seasonal virus.
On episode #302 of the science show This Week in Virology, the TWiVers discuss the growing Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, and an epidemic of respiratory disease in the US caused by enterovirus D68.
You can find TWiV #302 at www.microbe.tv/twiv.