DENVER - Denver hospitals and pediatricians offices are seeing a spike in a respiratory virus that is hitting kids hard who have histories of asthma and wheezing.
"We have five kids in the intensive care unit which is a much higher number than we would see at the end of August, early September," Dr. Raju Meyappan said.
One of those children is 13-year-old Will Cornejo.
Will came down with a manageable cold. A couple days later, he woke up to an asthma attack. Three doses of the asthma medicine albuterol did not help him.
"It was like nothing we've ever seen," mother Jennifer Cornejo said. "He was unresponsive. He was laying on the couch. He couldn't speak to me. He was turning white and his lips turned blue."
Jennifer Cornejo says her sons breathing was very shallow so she called 9-1-1. Will ended up being airlifted to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. He was on a breathing tube for 24 hours to get through the worst of it.
"We're having a hard time believing that it really happened," Jennifer Cornejo said. "We're much better now because he is breathing on his own. We're on the mend."
What is troubling to both the Cornejo family and Dr. Meyappan is how quickly Will got gravely ill.
"That, we don't know off hand," Dr. Meyappan said. "It seems to be what's happening with this virus which is more severe than other viruses."
Dr. Meyappan describes this as a "cousin" to the rhinovirus, the main cause of the common cold. This strain is named Human Enterovirus 68.
It was first documented in 2008 in Asia. Dr. Meyeppan said what's he is seeing looks like what the Centers for Disease Control documented from that year.
"This is the worst I've seen in my time here at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children," Dr. Meyeppan said. He is expecting to continue its run for at least three more months. "We're going to have a pretty busy winter at this institution and throughout the hospitals of Denver."
Aside from the children in the intensive care unit, there are 20 other children in rooms on the main pediatric floor with respiratory illnesses. Those are being tested to determine if they are indeed Human Enterovirus 68.
Dr. Meyeppan recommends parents of asthmatic children make sure they have medication filled and ready to be used in case their child comes down with a cold. Dr. Meyeppan also recommends families have a plan on what to do if a cold gets bad. Most importantly, listen to the child's symptoms. There are no screening tests to determine if a virus is Human Enterovirus 68.
"If you have an asthmatic child and they are feeling sick and you are feeling 'should we go to the hospital,'" Jennifer Cornego said. "Go! It's worth the co-payment. It's worth having the doctors check it out."
Will doesn't remember all of the trauma from last week. He is starting to feel better and eager to get home and back to school and skateboarding.
"This is my first time going to the hospital for myself for a medical reason," Will told Kyle Dyer I then said "the last time, hopefully." To that, Will said very clearly through his oxygen mask, "Yes."
On Monday, will returned home.
For more information on Human Enterovirus 68 from the CDC:
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