Le Bonheur doctors on the lookout for Enterovirus-68

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Hospitals in Missouri and the Midwest have been swamped with hundreds of children suffering from a respiratory virus called Enterovirus-68.

The virus has the same symptoms as a common cold and spreads like a common cold virus. But EV-68 can be life threatening to patients who suffer from asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

There have been no reported case of EV-68 in Memphis,  but researchers at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital are already on the lookout for the virus and so are concerned parents like Zachary Hallmon.

"He was just having trouble breathing, he was breathing real heavy. You know, had his lungs working pretty hard. So we went ahead and brought him down to LeBonheur," said Zachary Hallmon.

Monday morning was filled with anxiety for Hallmon, after his 2-year-old son was admitted to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.

Hallmon said the first thing that popped into his mind was Enterovirus-68.

"Got us a little bit worried. But we've been down here before and they said he might have asthma. So we don't know if it's just that messing with him, or the new virus. We're hoping that it isn't," said Hallmon.

Once the test results are back, he'll know for sure.

On the second floor of the hospital, a research team is working to ease Hallmon's fears and those of other families.

Doctor John DeVincenzo is a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Le Bonheur.

"We can actually look for the genetic code of the virus in the secretions of the patient. For example, in their sputum or their nose. And the same types of tests can be used to pick up EV-68," said DeVincenzo.

He said the tests can detect the virus within 24-hours.

Though no cases of EV-68 have been reported in Memphis, DeVincenzo said it's likely some cases will show up. DeVincenzo said EV-68 can start out as a common cold, but can develop into more coughing and difficulty breathing for some patients.

"It might, for example, cause someone who has asthma to get a lot worse asthma. Or it might be so severe that it causes somebody who's healthy, without any medical problems, to have viral pneumonia," said DeVincenzo.

DeVincenzo warns cases of EV-68 are expected to increase over the next few weeks or months until the season for enteroviruses goes away.

He said you and your children can take precautions against contracting the EV-68 virus by practicing good hygiene: wash your hands thoroughly and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.