New Jersey health officials have put the right people on alert after receiving confirmation the state has its first case of a potentially dangerous respiratory illness known as enterovirus D68.

Sick child
Mario Villafuerte, Getty Images

The state learned Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a New Jersey child tested positively for the rather uncommon type of enterovirus. The child has already been released from treatment at a Philadelphia hospital.

"As with other enteroviruses, this is going to be one of the circulating types of viruses that are going to be in our community for a while," said state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan. "It's the time of the year when we commonly see enteroviruses in general."

However, symptoms of this particular type can be more severe, such as difficulty breathing and wheezing. The more likely symptoms, though, reflect the common cold.

Tan said hospitals statewide have been reminded to take a look at their "infection control precautions," although healthcare professionals are already aware that this is the time of year for enteroviruses.

Children are most at risk of EV-D68, perhaps due to a weaker immune system and less exposure to illnesses compared to adults.

The state has been in contact with child care centers and schools, informing them to be on the lookout for spikes in illnesses, and to report any suspected outbreaks to their local health department.

"We always encourage that schools promote the idea that kids can protect themselves by being taught to practice good hand hygiene," Tan said. "And certainly we encourage people to try to stay home when they're sick, so that they don't run the risk of infecting individuals."

According to the state, infected individuals with milder symptoms generally recover on their own without incident. There is no vaccine or specific drug to treat enterovirus infections.

Twelve other states reported EV-D68 cases as of Wednesday.

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