Parenting: The Media Sends Us Into A Panic

Don’t you just love the media? If it’s not an impending hurricane in Florida, it’s Ebola coming across our shores, the next great economic depression, gangs, guns, rampant terrorists, etc. … There is always something perilous on our horizon, and the media seems to take great glee in over-reporting every potential threat, no matter how unrealistic it may be.

Case in point is the new deadly respiratory virus: enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). We’ve been hearing about this for months, tracking its dangerous course from California to now 32 states including Arizona. It’s big! It’s scary! There is no cure! Kids are dropping like flies!

OK, can we please add a smidgeon of reason to this hysteria? Yes, there is a virus called enterovirus D68. But it’s not new. It was first reported in 1962 in California. But since viruses usually don’t get recorded, we really don’t know how many cases of it have occurred over the years.

Yes, it can cause severe respiratory distress. Yes, it can put kids in the hospital, but that is mostly for asthmatics. Basically, EV-D68 looks and acts like a normal cold with runny nose, fever, cough and body aches. When kids contract this virus, especially if they have asthma or other compromising respiratory disorders, they can have serious breathing problems requiring hospitalization. Since it’s a virus, there is no known cure. Hospitalized kids need attention and breathing assistance until their bodies can fight off the invading infection. Most kids recover and are out on the soccer field a few weeks later. But that’s not terribly interesting to the general public.
In our “if it bleeds it leads” society, we’ll report one death from EV-D68 as an epidemic threatening each and every child in the state. It’s excessive and it isn’t true. The last thing we as a society should be doing is trying to freak out parents about a new virus when they’re already freaked out about norovirus, Ebola and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I mean please, can we add a little sanity to this situation?

Every year about 20,000 kids are hospitalized for influenza. Over the past decade, the CDC reports between 35 and 348 annual pediatric influenza deaths across the nation. In their most recent report, which covers the 2012-2013 season, there were 105 pediatric deaths and 90% of those children had not received a flu vaccination for the season. Maybe we need some perspective here. Did you give your child Flumist or a good old- fashioned flu vaccine? If not, what are you waiting for?

EV-D68 has no cure and no vaccine to prevent it. Since it’s a virus, antibiotics won’t help. You can catch it the way you catch any cold, from contact with other sick people. The virus lives in saliva, nasal mucus and sputum. Talk to your kids about coughing into their elbows and protecting themselves from all sources of illness by avoiding touching sick people or their belongings and good hand washing with soap and water for more than 20 seconds.

If your child has a history of asthma or other respiratory ailments and contracts a virus that makes breathing labored and difficult, see a doctor immediately. If your child is breathing rapidly, or you see nasal flaring or retractions (where the skin between the ribs or over the collar bone is sucking in), don’t meander, go directly to the doctor or nearest emergency room. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

The myth that EV-D68 can kill without any symptoms is just that – a myth. If your child appears healthy with no sign of illness, you need not worry about sudden onset of respiratory failure. But be smart. If your child has a cold and is having severe trouble breathing, don’t wait it out. Get to a healthcare facility where your child can be cared for appropriately. That’s not over-reacting. That’s being a good parent.

Debra Rich Gettleman is a mother and blogger based in the Phoenix area. For more of her work, visit

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