Deadly virus spreads to Victoria

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Deadly virus spreads to Victoria
A boy hospitalised with enterovirus 71 during Vietnam's outbreak of the deadly virus.

A dangerous virus that is suspected to have killed three young children and hospitalised more than 100 in NSW has been detected in Victoria.

The state has confirmed "several cases" of enterovirus 71 (EV71), which can cause meningitis, brain swelling and paralysis.

Victoria's Chief Health Officer, Dr Rosemary Lester, has ordered hospitals and laboratories to be on the lookout for the virus, which is most dangerous to under-fives.

Related: Deadly virus puts kids in peril

"EV71 has been confirmed in a number of children in NSW and more recently in Victoria, and has caused severe neurological disease in young children," she warns in an official advisory.

"Any child presenting with a febrile [feverish] illness and neurological features (including irritability) should have a diagnosis of EV71 considered and should be discussed with an emergency consultant or paediatrician."

Medical staff have been advised to isolate and care for children with suspected EV71 complications in "a single room with contact precautions in place". Testing should also be performed on throat swabs or stool samples to determine whether they've been infected, Dr Lester says.

A spokesman for Victoria's Department of Health said there had been "maybe half a dozen" cases of EV71 with no indication of new cases since the still active advisory was issued on May 14 — but could not confirm this as it's not a notifiable condition.

NSW Health issued an alert to GPs and established an ongoing surveillance system for EV71, which is being blamed for to putting dozens of children in hospital and the death of three children.

Latest data reveals EV71 has been identified as the cause of death in two of the cases, while the third remains under investigation.

Since January, 117 children have been admitted to Sydney's two children's hospitals showing symptoms suspected to be related to enterovirus, with six testing as negative.

There has been a decline in new cases in the latest report but hospital admissions for meningitis and encephalitis are higher than average for this time of year.

EV71 — which is from a family of viruses related to hand, foot and mouth disease and polio (now considered eradicated in Australia as a result of immunisation) — is typically spread through contact with respiratory secretions or faeces.

The best way to reduce your risk of infection is to wash hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, changing nappies or handling soiled clothing and before eating and wiping noses. Coughs and sneezes should be directed into your elbow or a tissue rather than hands.

Related: The science behind enterovirus 71

Some — but not all — of the children who have developed EV71 have a history of contact with hand, foot and mouth disease, which is usually a relatively mild illness.

A world-first vaccine to protect against EV71 is being developed by Chinese researchers with promising trial results — but it is not yet publicly available.

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