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Expert: Soap, Water For Full 20 Seconds Will Kill Fatal Respiratory Virus

An image of the EV-68 virus.
An image of the EV-68 virus. Photo Credit: CDC

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The emerging respiratory virus that killed at least four people including a 4-year-old in New Jersey will not be stopped by this season's flu shot, a public health expert said Tuesday.

Alcohol disinfectants or passive washing of hands also won't eliminate the threat of the potentially deadly enterovirus-D68 that has 594 confirmed cases in 43 states since mid-August, according to Dr. Robert Amler, dean and professor of public health at New York Medical College in Valhalla.

Washing hands with soap and water for a full 20 seconds typically does work against EV-D68 and other viruses, said Amler, who suggested "singing happy birthday to yourself, twice," while washing to assure hands are clean.

Amler offered his expertise and health tips during a conference call with news reporters arranged by U.S, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison.

"We'll be watching this very closely,'' Lowey said. "We share the alarm and fear of many of our constituents."

Lowey called enterovirus a serious public health threat to the Lower Hudson Valley. Experts say parents should seek immediate medical care for their children if they have trouble breathing, chest pain, wheezing or blue lips. Children with asthma or other lung conditions are most vulnerable.

Amler said that while the flu shot and nasal spray vaccine produced for the upcoming flu season will not kill EV-D68, it will protect people from other virus strains. It's not uncommon for annual flu shots to protect against some viruses, but not others, he said.

Lowey called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide schools with guidance to help stem the spread of enterovirus among children. It first appears as a cold or even a mild case of the flu, but can get more serious rapidly, experts say.

Getting more media attention, but actually posing less of a threat to the nation is the first case of Ebola virus diagnosed in the United States. Health officials say the public should not fear a U.S. outbreak.

Still, Lowey has asked for increased screenings of travelers arriving at U.S. airports. "The best way is to stop it in West Africa,'' Lowey said of Ebola. "I'm alarmed at the current Ebola outbreak. I'm concerned some politicians are ignoring experts and calling for travel bans."

Dr. Debra Spicehandler, co-chief of Infectious Diseases for Northern Westchester Hospital, said Ebola is much harder to catch than the flu, which is transmitted through the air. Spicehandler also is more concerned about EV-D68. In contrast, someone would have to come in direct contact with an Ebola patient’s bodily fluids, such as blood, urine or sweat to be infected by Ebola, she said.

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