New Jersey health officials have confirmed that the sudden death of 4-year-old Eli Waller in September, was caused by respiratory illness enterovirus D68.
The little boy, from Hamilton, NJ, stayed home from preschool that day when his parents noticed he was developing what they thought was a mild case of pink eye. The preschooler however, showed no typical signs of the respiratory virus — no fever, coughing, runny nose, or muscle aches. In fact, when Eli’s parents tucked their little boy in bed that night, their son looked and felt fine. But when they tried to wake him up the next morning on Sept. 25, they couldn’t.
According to the Mercer county medical examiner, Eli died of brain and lymph node swelling which was caused by enterovirus D68, says ABC News. Jeff Plunkett, the Hamilton health officer, told press Eli had no pre-existing medical condition. In fact, this is believed to be the first death in the United States directly caused by the virus.
And while this latest report has put many parents in the New Jersey area on edge, Plunkett says Eli’s case is very rare.
“I think Eli’s case is the exception to the other cases around the country,” he told told ABC News. “He had no signs of any illness that night, and his passing was sudden and shocking.”
Almost 600 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the United States since August and another four people have died because of respiratory illness. In comparison, Canada has had dozens of confirmed cases of the virus but thankfully, no deaths.
Health officials say many will catch enterovirus D68, but only a few will develop serious symptoms that will require medical attention. Those with pre-existing respiratory issues, such as asthma are a greater risk. Parents are reminded to keep a close eye on their children this cold and flu season and to exercise regular hand washing. If your child develops difficulty breathing, visit your local emergency room immediately.
Image via the Waller Family.