The dreaded summer cold is often much worse than a winter cold and here's why... (4 min. read)

Your swimsuit is bought, your tan is on point and your summer body is ready, or at least as good as it's going to get this year.  The weekend at the lake with friends or family is one day away and you already have your bags packed and ready to go. 

As the day progresses you feel slightly feverish and a bit of a body ache.  A slight dryness in your throat beckons a cough and you feel your lungs tighten from it.  You brush it off and go about your day.  Next morning comes and it's time for the lake, but as the night progressed your body aches worsened, your cough kept you up half the night and your nose won't stop running!  There's no way you're making it to the lake this weekend.   You, like many other summer cold sufferers, wonder how you got a cold when cold and flu season is over.   Or is it...?


What is the cause of those awful summer colds?

Enterovirus is one of the pathogens that is the main cause of those dreaded summer colds that wreak havoc on our system.  Enterovirus is a common virus that has a mix of different types (4 types, EV-68 to EV-71).  Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is the virus that causes that dreaded summer cold.

Up until 2014 small numbers of EV-D68 have been reported.  However, in 2014 the number of EV-D68 confirmed cases increased significantly from previous years.  Of the area's that experienced the outbreak of EV-68, the spread was rapid and primarily affected children especially those with asthma.  Per Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease control expert, the EV-68D microbe has evolved over the years.  EV-D68 strain comes from a very common family of viruses, yet has a potential to be very explosive as it was in the Midwest in 2014.

How Active is enterovirus D68 today in 2017?

There are no reports thus far for 2017 and there is no way to predict how present this virus will be from year to year.   For 2016 there was no unusual activity of the virus however, it is ever present and the CDC continues to monitor breakouts and it's seasonal activity.  In addition hospitals and Dr's offices are not legally required to report cases of illness, as a result, there is likely many cases that go unreported.

From August 2014 to January 2015 just over 1,000 people tested positive for the EV-D68 virus.  However, there were likely many thousands of mild infections for which people did not seek medical treatment for.  Of those affected by the EV-D68 virus, the majority were children who suffered from asthma or had a history of wheezing.  Of these patients who tested positive for the EV-D68 virus, 14 of them died.  It is up to State and local officials to determine and release the cause of these deaths. 

When and who are most likely to get infected?

Enterovirus is most active in the summer and fall within the United States.  However, this virus is still active year round. 

Infants, children, and teens are most susceptible to the enterovirus due to not being exposed to the virus before and have not built up an immunity to it.  Of those hospitalized the majority had asthma.

What are the symptoms of enterovirus and how is it spread?

The enterovirus symptoms are similar to that of winter colds however, they are more intensive and last longer.  The summer cold virus tends to affect the respiratory system more so than a winter cold.

  • Mild symptoms will include cough, sneezing, rash in children, runny nose, diarrhea, muscle and body aches
  • Severe symptoms will include difficulty breathing and wheezing
  • Rare cases can lead to meningitis even with no symptoms

As with the winter cold and yearly flu, the enterovirus is spread and enters the person's nasal and respiratory secretions through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or when a person touches a surface that has been infected.  It is also transmitted through the fecal-oral route.  Ew! So please, always wash your hands after using the restroom or after changing a baby's diaper.

To compound this, many infected people can have no symptoms at all yet are still contagious. There are no antiviral medications for treatment of enterovirus.  Dr's can recommend ways to simply help control the symptoms.  If you are experiencing severe respiratory symptoms make an appointment with your doctor to manage it, as to avoid hospitalization. 

Re-circulating air is another way the enterovirus is spread

While summer time is when windows are open and we are getting fresh outside air more often, your work environment is still a closed up box of floating viruses.  This is often compounded in the summer due to the use of air conditioners that are constantly re-circulating the air.  This also adds to the dryness of nasal passages allowing easier travel of these viruses into your respiratory system.

Summer time is also big for air travel and the worst time to get a cold during your vacation.  Your cabin is re-circulating air in very tight quarters.  Due to constant re-circulation of this air, you don't need to be sitting next to someone who's sick to get infected.  That person 30 rows behind you will be happy to share those viruses he's expelling to everyone over the next couple of hours.  In addition, surfaces are touched hundreds of times on airplanes by infected people.  Now please sit back, relax and enjoy your flight. Yikes!

How long will a summer cold last?         

According to Dr. Hirsch, summer colds have a higher chance of recurring and often last much longer.  Dr. Hirsh believes that summer colds are worse than winter colds because the viruses that cause them are often different. "Something about it [summer colds] is awful and insidious."  Dr. Hirsch indicated that summer colds can "make you feel really sick....they lurk in the background...and just go on and on and on."  

Per the CDC Here are some preventative measures

Wash hands thoroughly before eating, after going to the toilet or handling nappy/excreta. 
- Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. 
- Clean thoroughly surfaces of toys and other appliances. 
- If a child is suffering from HFMD/herpangina, he/she should stay at home, take adequate rest until the illness is over; refrain from going to school or day-care centers until the illness is over; 
avoid sharing of eating utensils among household members; attend Accident and Emergency Department or consult a doctor when the child has any of the following conditions: 

- persistent high fever; 
- repeated vomiting and poor feeding; 
- extreme tiredness and sleepiness; 
- irritability; 
- abdominal distension; 
- urine retention; 
- shortness of breath; 
- fast heart beat or pulse (>160/min.); 
- unsteady gait or limb weakness; 
- muscle jerks; 
- abnormal eye movement; 
- cold sweating and poor circulation.

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