By John Dodge


Update: 9/8/14 2:40 p.m.

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — A rare respiratory illness has likely sickened hundreds of children across the United States, including cases in Illinois and around Chicago.

The outbreak in 10 states of what medical officials believe is enterovirus 68 is especially prevalent in the Midwest, including Iowa, Missouri and here in Illinois.

CBS 2 News has learned that hospitals in Chicago are treating patients with symptoms that are similar to EV-D68.

John Easton, a spokesman at the University of Chicago, said that over the past month doctors have treated several instances of a respiratory illness in children,. He could not say if any of the cases were related to the suspected EV68 outbreak.

“It’s as if the winter flu season is starting early,” he said.

Last week, 11-year-old River Johnson came down with what seemed to be a cold. But then his symptoms worsened.

River will likely be hospitalized through the week. His mother wonders if he’s yet another victim of Enterovirus D-68.

“For about 30 seconds, I wasn’t able to breathe at all,” the boy tells CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov. He’s expected to spend a few more days at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

In a statement, the CDC said they have identified 11 cases of the virus in Chicago, but didn’t not indicate where the patients were treated.

A hospital in Quincy has barred children under 12 from visiting the facility until further notice due to an outbreak of  suspected EV-D68  among about 70 young children.

More than 70 children complaining of respiratory virus symptoms visited the Blessing Hospital during the Labor Day weekend, Reuters reported.

In Kansas City, Mo., officials have reported at least 300 cases of children suffering from a virus that is believed to be EV-D68.

In Colorado, officials at Children’s Hospital Colorado told the Denver Post that they have treated more than 900 children since Aug. 18 for severe respiratory illness and admitted 86 to the hospital.

Preliminary tests in many of the cases indicate the patients were suffering from EV68, but further tests need to be conducted.

The virus is quite rare in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control there were only 39 reported cases of EV-D68 between 2008-2010, with 28 of those connected to an outbreak in Pennsylvania.

Almost all of the patients were under the age of 20.

Enterovirus is related to rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.

The virus can be especially concerning for people with asthma, and September is the worst month for asthmatics because of exposure to germs and schools and fall allergies.

Enterovirus 68 usually causes mild respiratory illness but in some cases can develop into severe illness requiring hospitalization. Symptoms include wheezing or other flu-like symptoms.

Precautions are the same as during the regular cold and flu season, including frequent hand-washing, avoiding rubbing your face and eyes and limiting close-contact with others (such has kissing or sharing a drink.)