A preschool student in Hamilton, N.J., is the country’s first confirmed death linked to enterovirus D68, a serious respiratory illness that has swept the U.S.
Eli Waller, 4, died in his sleep on Sept. 25, according to officials. Test results over this past weekend confirmed the virus, said Hamilton Mayor Kelly A. Yaede, who was one of a group of officials who informed Eli’s parents of the results.
“Unfortunately Hamilton has lost one of its own — an adorable little boy,” Yaede said. “To see a picture of this little boy with his two sisters and to see this big family, one cannot begin to realize the unbearable pain they must be going through.”
The Wallers issued a statement calling Eli “our perfect, beautiful son.” The youngest in a set of triplets, Eli enjoyed soccer and dance classes in school. Things did not come easy to him, but he was not the type to give up, his parents said.
“Imagine a shy little puppy who wants only to make people proud and happy, maybe tripping a bit over his own paws, but truly full of unconditional love,” his father, Andy Waller, said in a statement.
Enterovirus link probed in deaths of girl, 3 others
Eli was an afternoon preschool student at Yardville Elementary School. A morning student there who shared the same classroom as Eli and had a respiratory illness was treated at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton, Yaede said. That student is recovering at home while the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention review test samples for the virus, Hamilton Health Officer Jeff Plunkett said.
The CDC has confirmed 594 people across 43 states and the District of Columbia with illness caused by enterovirus D68 between mid-August and Monday.The virus has been detected in four other people who have died, the centers said. The role EV-D68 played in these deaths is unclear; state and local health departments are investigating, the CDC said.
In New Jersey, nine cases of the virus have been confirmed in eight counties, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
Spokeswoman Donna Leusner said the state health department is keeping in “constant communication” with other health and school officials, and it has posted information on its website, including frequently asked questions and tips for prevention.
“The most important message for parents is really to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms,” she said.
Those symptoms include coughing, a runny nose, body and muscle aches and, sometimes, fever. What first appears to parents to be a common cold can progress to wheezing, problems breathing and possible paralysis. That’s because EV-D68 is related to the virus that causes polio, which crippled thousands of American children before a vaccine was developed in the 1950s.
Sometimes, though, like in the case of Eli Waller, there are no clear symptoms. Eli only showed signs of what could be perceived as pink eye, Plunkett said.
“His mom put him to bed Wednesday night the 24th and when she went to get him on the 25th he had passed,” Plunkett said.
The virus is spread through close contact with infected people. Coughs, sneezes and touching objects or surfaces with the virus are common ways to become infected, the health department said.
There is no vaccine for EV-D68, which was first identified in California in 1962 and is among more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses. Infants, young children and teenagers are most susceptible to infection, particularly during outbreaks in the summer and fall. Infections generally taper off in late fall.
And there are no antivirals. The CDC says over-the-counter pain and fever medications can ease symptoms. Aspirin should not be given to children.
In Hamilton, school officials are taking extra precautions and focusing on three areas: cleanliness, education and monitoring. Superintendent James Parla said in a statement that among other things the district will increase custodial hours “to ensure a thorough cleaning” in the schools, principals will share information with staff every day and all illnesses in the schools are being tracked.
Eli Waller’s parents plan to honor their late son by establishing The First Day of School Foundation, which they say will provide support for students involved in special education.
“Eli was both nervous and excited about starting school, and it is our sincere hope that this foundation can work to help kids in a way that will make Eli proud of us all, in the same way that we were all so proud of him,” they said, before sending a final message to their son: “We love you, little buggy!”
Read more via USA Today.