Mysterious Illness Causes Preschooler’s Death

Enterovirus D68 continues to pose a threat to US children

HAMILTON, NJ – Eli Waller was an average preschool boy. His mother kept him home from school Oct 24 due to a minor case of pink eye. His parents put him to bed that night, but he never woke up.

The youngest of triplets, 4-year-old Eli Waller recently died from enterovirus

Enterovirus D68 has officially been confirmed as the cause of death for the New Jersey preschooler. The virus, which causes respiratory illness, has been linked to the deaths of at least the other children in the country.

Eli Waller, 4, of Hamilton township, died in his sleep on Sept 25. Tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later confirmed the cause of death to be enterovirus D68. The virus has affected hundreds of US children since August.

“He was asymptomatic and fine, and the next morning he had passed. The onset was very rapid and very sudden,” Jeffrey Plunkett, the township’s health officer, told “The New York Times.”

Plunkett assured CNN that there was nothing Eli’s parents could have done to prevent his death.

The virus is hard to detect because it resembles the common cold. Symptoms include a runny nose, body aches, coughing, and fever, and can worsen to include difficulty breathing, and, in fatal cases, respiratory failure. Children with respiratory issues, like asthma, are at an even greater risk for getting sick.

Enterovirus D68 has already been diagnosed in four patients who have died, although it is not entirely clear if the virus was the primary cause, according to the CDC website. There have been 594 confirmed cases throughout the country of respiratory illness caused by enterovirus since mid-August.

“Many of us will have EV-D68. Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely. The vast majority of children exposed to EV-D68 recover completely,” said Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health in a news conference.

There are over 100 strands of the enterovirus, and they are a common cause of illness for millions of Americans every year, the CDC reports. However, enterovirus have never been known to spread as widely as it has in recent months.

Enterovirus D68 has also been linked to paralysis in children. “Clinically, it is very, very similar to polio,” Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford, CA, told National Geographic. However, the direct connection between enterovirus D68 and paralysis remains unknown.

The virus is spread through close contact with those infected. Although there is no current vaccine in existence, parents can take preventative steps to protect their children from this dangerous illness.

The Waller triplets

The Waller triplets

“I think that [parents] should be aware of trying to minimize children’s exposures. There are standard recommendations – washing hands and avoiding crowds of sick children and things like that,” Mark Pallansch of the CDC told NPR.

“The general population can do the same thing, particularly with young children, you can not only keep them [in] less contact with other sick children, but you can actively disinfect toys or surfaces that they come in contact [with] routinely,” Pallansch urged the public.

“[Eli] was a beautiful mix of eagerness and hesitancy, need and striving, caution and surprise, all of which were grounded in a pure unconditional love,” said the Waller family in a statement.

Eli Waller was the youngest of triplets. His parents and sisters currently remain in good health and plan to start a foundation in Eli’s name that provides support for special education.

“Eli was both nervous and excited about starting school, and it is our sincere hope that this foundation can work to help kids in a way that will make Eli proud of us all, in the same way that we are all so proud of him,” Eli’s parents told USA Today.

“They are most concerned about giving thanks, which is incredible,” said Elena Manning, principal of Yardville Elementary where Eli attended preschool.

Eli’s parents also had a final message to their late son: “We love you, little buggy!”

UPDATED: October 27, 2014 5:11p.m.

Annabelle is the Editor-In-Chief of Zap Ed News and their primary hard news reporter, contributing weekly to the political and general news beats with local, national, and international coverage. She was born in Providence, RI and is a senior at Hobart & William Smith Colleges where she will graduate in the spring with a degree in Writing & Rhetoric. She is not sure what she wants to do after graduation, but hopes to continue writing.

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