Fall is my most favorite time of year. But although it ushers in the often-anticipated holiday season, it also has a negative reputation for bringing increased outbreaks of illness as weather turns colder and more people turn indoors. While I prefer to take one holiday at a time, this return to coughs and sneezes after a long break in the warmth of summer reminds me of one line from Deck the Halls. The second line of the beloved carol begins “tis the season…” It always seems to fit as the answer whenever a friend or co-worker should offer up that an illness has taken hold of them. “Tis the season!” is often my response.
2014 seems to be keeping pace and not disappointing when it comes to a melting pot of illnesses this autumn. At the end of July, I wrote about Ebola virus. At that time, the reported death toll was in the 600s. In a little more than two months that number has risen to more than 3,000. Just yesterday, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died.
But Ebola is not the only illness grabbing headlines. There’s another deadly virus taking lives this season. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has caused some 300 deaths out of 852 cases in nine countries in the Middle East. Possibly airborne, this disease, too, is being reported as a threat to the public, although with not quite as much fervor or traction in the news as Ebola.
Meanwhile, enterovirus is also seeing its fair share of media coverage. The D68 strain of the virus has been reported as the cause of death for a preschooler in New Jersey and has affected 538 people in 43 states, with 11 cases in Colorado tied to unexplained paralysis. News headlines paint a picture of worry among parents fearing their child will contract the virus. But just like Ebola, enterovirus is not appearing in 2014 as a new disease. The disease was first identified in 1962, and small cases have been reported every year since 1987. Children with pre-existing conditions may be more prone to contracting the disease, while adults who have created antibodies over the years may be less likely to contract the virus.
Of course, among the worried parents are those with children attending Yardville Elementary in New Jersey. Anxious for answers regarding cleaning protocols, parents spoke out, looking to know what guidelines the school and district would be implementing to protect the health of students. But just as “tis the season” seems to be the fitting response to friends who murmur at the first sign of that first autumn illness, the age-old basic hygiene tips for healthy living also apply to halting the spread of enterovirus D68—wash hands after using the bathroom, coughing, blowing your nose, and before eating or touching your face. Keep your distance from people that are noticeably sick. And if you’re the sick one, respectfully keep your distance.