The number of Toronto children infected with the deadly EV-D68 is growing, with some suffering unexplained paralysis, but Ontario is refusing to declare the virus reportable.
Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is not a legally notifiable disease in Canada, but the latest vicious outbreak sparked a national public health alert and both British Columbia and Alberta have since declared it reportable.
Ontario, which has the highest number of infected kids, has no plans to follow suit.
Critics say Ontario is lagging behind other provinces yet again.
“The death of one child is one too many,” said Ron McDonald, president of the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers.
The contagious and mysterious EV-D68 virus has infected at least 150 children in Ontario, with 12 kids suffering varying levels of paralysis linked to respiratory problems.
“Measles and chicken pox are reportable. Why wouldn’t EV-D68 be? This is a transmissible disease and we have confirmed cases from Ottawa to Windsor,” McDonald told the Toronto Star Tuesday.
Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children announced Wednesday that it had seven confirmed cases of EV-D68, with at least one infected child suffering muscle weakness.
Another five children also have muscle weakness linked with respiratory illness; it is unclear how many of those have EV-D68.
The rare virus has been hospitalizing hundreds of children across North America since August. It has now been confirmed in six provinces in Canada.
EV-D68 is related to the common cold and the vast majority of people only suffer mild symptoms. In the most severe cases, patients can develop polio-like symptoms such as paralysis or end up on respirators in intensive care.
The virus has been detected in at least five children who have died in the United States and some researchers fear it could be this generation’s version of polio.
When asked on Tuesday if EV-D68 would become reportable in Ontario, a Ministry of Health and Long Term Care spokesman said: “No, there is no plan at this time to add EV-D68 as a reportable disease.”
This means hospitals are not obliged to notify provincial public health officials of positive test results, making it impossible to monitor the spread of the virus.
Ontario Minister of Health and Long Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins said in an emailed statement that EV-D68 was not required to be reported to public health authorities, like most respiratory infections.
The vast majority of people would not seek or require medical care.
Health officials were monitoring the situation and routine surveillance systems would be used to track the virus, Hoskins said.
This decision has infuriated critics and some parents.
Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker, who is the associate critic for health, implored the minister to change tack.
“We are talking about children’s lives and the potential for paralysis. Why would we not be tracking this?” he told the Star Tuesday.
“Why are we always lagging behind other provinces? We have 100 children infected, so why wouldn’t you put the protocol in place and get on top of this as quickly as possible?”
It would be better to have the data and not need it, then need it and not have it, Walker said.
Janice Biehn, a Toronto mother of two who is also the editor of ParentsCanada magazine, said it was “very frustrating and confusing that parents can’t expect the same health regulations across the country.”
“Why should Ontario parents, where there are the most infected children, not be afforded the same notification that parents in B.C. are given?” she told the Star Tuesday.
Texas-based neurologist Dr. Benjamin Greenberg is calling for the virus to be reportable across North America and commended B.C. and Alberta for their response to the outbreak.
EV-D68 had manifested in the community in a similar way to polio and “we want to make sure we are not heading in the same direction,” he told the Star.
Greenberg, from the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, acknowledged that declaring a new virus reportable was a difficult decision that would soak up resources, but he said it was necessary “to understand the scope and depth of the illness.”
Surveillance allowed public health officials to prepare for the future, in case EV-D68 became an “ongoing human pathogen causing paralysis.”
“Is this going to be a reoccurring issue? We just don’t know,” he said.