Twin Cities hospitals busy treating kids with breathing problems; virus still not confirmed in Minnesota

Children's Hospital
Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul.
Yi-Chin Lee / MPR News

An uncommon virus that has sickened children in at least a dozen Midwestern states appears to be hitting Minnesota, but state health officials have not yet confirmed its presence.

Hospitals in the Twin Cities metro area have been exceptionally busy treating patients with severe respiratory problems that match the symptoms associated with Enterovirus 68.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, the region's largest children's hospital system had to divert six patients to another hospital this week because its beds are full from treating kids who have severe respiratory symptoms.

Many of the sickest children have required a continuous dose of vaporized medicine to ease their breathing, said Roxanne Fernandes, chief nursing officer at Children's.

"We stream that [the medication] to them through a mask continuously," she said. "And some children are having what we call continuous nebulization for a few days, and this is very unusual."

Fernandes said Children's treated 90 kids with severe respiratory symptoms in its emergency departments Wednesday, when usually the hospitals would see around 20 kids for breathing problems this time of year.

"We have also heard from our community pediatric clinics that have urgent care and open appointments that they're seeing an unusual number of children," she said.

Fernandes said most of the children being seen in pediatric offices were well enough to send home for treatment.

Federal health officials are asking physicians across the nation to be on alert the respiratory illness. There is no vaccine to prevent Enterovirus 68 and it cannot be treated with antibiotics. But hand washing and covering coughs can slow the spread of the virus.

Public health officials say many cases of the disease may be mild and require no treatment.

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