By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY Mo (Reuters) - Hundreds of children across the U.S. Midwest have been stricken by a potentially serious respiratory illness, and many states are asking for federal help testing and tracking cases, according to federal and state health officials.
Hospitals are reporting unusually high numbers of children with symptoms similar to that of a common cold that turns into respiratory distress. Symptoms can include coughing, difficulty breathing, and possibly a rash and fever.
Missouri has been hit particularly hard by the viral illness. More than 300 cases of the respiratory illness have been reported at just one pediatric hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and 15 percent of those children have needed treatment in intensive care, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Hospitals in St. Louis are also seeing a spike in pediatric respiratory illnesses, the department said, but gave no specific numbers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping Missouri test and track the illnesses reported, Ryan Hobart, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said on Monday.
A specialized CDC laboratory is handling testing of specimens taken from the children, and many are positive for the Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), Missouri officials said.
In addition to Missouri, suspected outbreaks have been recorded in Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Georgia, Mark Pallansch, the director of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases, told CNN.
"We’re in the middle of looking into this," Pallansch said in an interview with CNN on Sunday. "We don’t have all the answers yet."
The hospitalizations could be "just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases," Pallansch added.
CDC representatives did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the reported cases.
Enteroviruses are very common viruses, and U.S. health officials estimate there are 10 million to 15 million enterovirus infections nationwide each year.
Most people infected with enteroviruses have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, but some infections can be serious, especially in young children.
(Reporting By Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Susan Heavey)