— -- The respiratory disease enterovirus 68 is being blamed for the first time for directly causing the death of a child.
Hamilton Township Health officer Jeff Plunkett said today that after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday that 4-year-old Eli Waller of Hamilton, N.J., was infected with the enterovirus 68 when he died last week, the Mercer county medical examiner deterimined the preschooler's death was directly related to the disease.
Brain and lymph node swelling in the child was then determined to be a result of the virus.
While the virus has appeared to be particularly dangerous for asthmatic children or children with underlying health issues, Plunkett said Eli had no known health issues.
At least four other patients who tested positive for the enterovirus 68 have died, and CDC and local medical officials are investigating whether the virus played a role in their deaths.
Another child in Rhode Island died last week from a combination of bacterial and viral infections. The Rhode Island Department of Health said the 10-year-old girl died of Staphylococcus aureus sepis "associated with" enterovirus 68.
The New Jersey child from Hamilton Township in Mercer County is the state's first death involving enterovirus 68, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
"Our thoughts remain with the family at this very difficult time," Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said. "While the child has tested positive for EV-D68, the cause of death has not yet been determined and it is unclear if [enterovirus 68] played a direct role or was a contributing factor in his death."
The respiratory disease is suspected of sickening children in at least 43 states, according to the CDC. The virus often starts out similar to a common cold with patients usually complaining of coughing or a runny nose. In rare cases the respiratory problems can become severe, particularly for asthmatic patients.
In Colorado, CDC and local health officials are investigating whether limb weakness and paralysis reported in nine children was associated with the enterovirus 68.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.