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Overreaction to Enterovirus D68, Putting it in Perspective

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Rochester: Overreaction to Enterovirus D68, Putting it in Perspective
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Not that long ago, diseases like polio and smallpox ravaged the population. One in three people infected with smallpox died. Polio paralyzed tens of thousands and killed 1,000 each year in the U.S. Most of those infected were elementary school children.

"If you just look back in the 1940s and 1950s when those infections were very widespread, there's one point in time where one out of 20 children under the age of five years in the United States wouldn't survive to their fifth birthday," said Dr. Joe Domachowske, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital.

"We've had times of epidemics where people we really, really scared and going crazy. I mean, polio, you would stay out of swimming pools and all these kinds of things. And it used to be that there were epidemics out there, we've become quite spoiled now because we have so many medications that keep those things from happening," said Bob Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of popular culture said.

Vaccines have virtually eradicated diseases like polio and smallpox in the United States. Still, there are illnesses that do not have vaccines. The most recent to get attention is the enterovirus D68, which usually causes cold-like symptoms.

National news outlets reported the first death associated enterovirus D68 earlier this week. The CBS headline labels it "deadly virus."

"News operations want us to pay attention. They want us to keep watching and one of the ways to keep doing that is to present the story as though it is really important," said Thompson.

So just how deadly is enterovirus D68? A few hundred children have been hospitalized and one has died.

According to the CDC, every year the flu lands 20,000 children under the age of five in the hospital. During the 2013-2014 influenza season, more than 100 kids died from the flu. Part of the reason enterovirus is getting so much attention is because news travels instantaneously.

"Before 1963, there was only 15 minutes of network news per night. It hadn't even expanded to a half hour yet. So stories would get told in a sentence or two and then there might be a little bit of commentary," said Thompson.

"Sometimes the fear of the infection is more contagious than the infection itself," said Domachowske.

Doctors said as long as basic public health measures are put into place, most of the time the outbreaks can be controlled pretty quickly.

As for the ebola cases in the United States, doctors said there's no reason to worry because the transmission is through contact with an infected person's body fluids.

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