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Severe respiratory illness has Tenn. Department of Health "leaning forward"

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP/WMOT) — Hundreds of children in about a dozen states, have been sickened by a severe respiratory illness, and in some cases have required intensive care.

The suspected germ, enterovirus 68, hasn’t been reported yet in Tennessee, but it is present in several neighboring states. The virus is from a family of viruses that typically hit when school gets underway each fall.

Enterovirus symptoms are generally mild, but Tennessee Department of Health Epidemiologist Tim Jones says this year's cases are unusually severe.

“In the states that have been heavily affected so far, we are seeing a susbstantial number of hospitalizations. Three-quarters of those are kids that had asthma already. So, this is a virus that can tip people over the edge if they’ve got underlying disease.”

Jones says all the usual precaution will help: Wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, and shield your coughs and sneezes. He also has advice for when parents need to seek medical care.

“If any child is having trouble – really labored breathing, if there’s weazing, or if they look like they’re really struggling to get breath and that kind of thing we certainly want them to get to an emergency room right away.”

Dr. Jones says he expects enterovirus 68 will reach Tennessee. He says the State Department of Health is "leaning forward" by alerting health care providers and the public about illness.