A determination about whether a severe respiratory virus has now reached the state of Maine is being worked upon by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An outbreak of respiratory illness is sending hundreds of children to the hospital and affecting children in a number of states including Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. Recent news reports have also noted several suspected cases in Massachusetts. The CDC has recently identified the likely cause of these illnesses as the rarely reported Enterorvirus D68.

While there is no specific treatment for EV-D68, it is extremely important that all of us are aware of its symptoms and make sure that we and our families practice good hygiene to avoid getting the virus.

EV-D68 belongs to a very common family of viruses — enteroviruses — of which there are more than 100 different types. Every year, enteroviruses cause an estimated 10 million to 15 million infections in the United States. Enteroviruses can cause usually mild respiratory illness, fever, rash and, in severe cases, swelling of the brain and spinal cord. EV-D68 appears to primarily cause respiratory illness, although its full symptoms are still unclear.

In a report of severe cases published by the CDC, children with the virus ranged from 6 weeks of age to 16 years old. All children had difficulty breathing, and many had a history of previous wheezing or asthma while very few had a fever.

EV-D68 can be found in respiratory secretions, and the virus is likely spread from person to person when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces. For this reason, we can best protect ourselves and our families by taking the following precautions:

• Wash hands frequently and thoroughly.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick.

• Disinfect surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs.

Not only is there no specific treatment, there is no vaccine to prevent illness from EV-D68. It is possible for anyone to become infected with EV-D68, however, many infections are mild and require treatment only of symptoms. Infants, children and teenagers are more likely to develop serious illness because they do not yet have immunity from previous exposures to the virus. This is likely also true for people with weakened immune systems.

As with most viruses, prevention and awareness are essential to keeping them at bay.

Jeffrey Holmstrom is the medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine and maintains a primary care practice in Saco.