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'New' Virus Catches CDC's Eye

Ithaca, UNITED STATES: A tube with an identification number holding a sample taken from a bird at a live poultry market in New York City, 23 February 2006 at Cornell University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Ithaca, New York as part of the Live Bird Market Surveillance Program for New York state which monitors for avian influenza viruses, or bird flu. About 1,000 samples each week collected from the state's 90 bird markets, mostly in New York City, are tested at the Cornell lab as a precaution in order to detect new strains of bird flu that might threaten the poultry industry or human health. This lab will conduct a PCR or polymerase chain reaction test on the sample. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Maggie Fox
September 29, 2011

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.

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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.

WATCH CDC provides tips for preventing the spread of influenza:

From CDC: 'Fighting Flu'

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