(Reuters) - A New Jersey boy who went to bed last month in seemingly good health and died in his sleep is the first fatality linked directly to a strain of enterovirus that has infected more than 500 people, a local medical official said on Sunday.
The 4-year-old boy, identified as Eli Waller of Hamilton Township, about 20 miles (32 km) west of Atlantic City, never awoke after going to sleep on the night of Sept. 24, Hamilton Township Health Officer Jeff Plunkett said.
Waller's cause of death was determined by the Mercer County Medical Examiner's office to be Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), Plunkett said. The finding was based on test results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
More than 500 people, mostly children, in 43 states and the District of Columbia have been infected with EV-D68 since mid-August, according to the CDC.
At least four others have died this year, although the CDC said it is unclear what role the virus played in their deaths.
A 10-year-old Rhode Island girl diagnosed with EV-D68 who died earlier this month was also suffering from a staph infection, according to state health officials.
In Colorado, 11 children have been treated for limb weakness or paralysis-like symptoms after coming down with a respiratory virus that tests have not conclusively linked to the nationwide EV-D68 outbreak, a spokeswoman for Children's Hospital Colorado said on Friday.
Waller was asymptomatic before his death and the onset of his illness was rapid, Plunkett said.
He had stayed home from preschool on Sept. 24 with a case pink eye that the medical examiner found to be unrelated to the virus, Plunkett said.
EV-D68 is one of more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses, which are common at this time of year and cause 10 million to 15 million infections in the United States annually. Few people who contract Enterovirus D68 develop symptoms beyond a runny nose and low fever.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Jane Baird and Eric Walsh)