Fact Check

Are Immigrant Kids Spreading Enterovirus (EV-D68)?

Was the Enterovirus (D68) outbreak caused by an influx of immigrant children?

Published Oct 13, 2014


Claim:   An ongoing outbreak of Enterovirus D68 originated with an influx of immigrant children from Central America.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2014]

An article at examiner.com states that the Enterovirus D 68 (EV-D68) is the 'open border flu', caused by children sent (across the border) to the interior of the country, and 'without any medical exams, being allowed to register for public school'.

The CDC does not mention this disease as a 'border flu'... and if it were a border problem, I would expect more border states to have higher illness rates, like California and Texas!

What are your thoughts?

I have read recently about cases of Enterovirus D-68 (EV-D68) occurring in immigrant children ... sometimes with fatal results.


Origins:   An outbreak of Enterovirus D68

first tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in mid-August 2014 began in the Midwest and rapidly spread to nearly every state. By October 2014 nearly 700 confirmed cases had been cited by the CDC, and at least one young child is believed to have died of the virus on 10 October 2014 in New Jersey.

The sudden appearance of Enterovirus D68 prompted much speculation as to the means with which the aggressive strain had entered the public health sphere. After cases were first confirmed in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri, the virus moved east and popped up in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. Like the majority of viruses, Enterovirus has no known treatment or cure and must simply run its course while symptoms of the virus are treated individually.

As the number of EV-D68 cases rose, rumors began to circulate suggesting that the outbreak was connected to a particular event: an influx of minor children crossing the United States border unaccompanied by parents or guardians that peaked in 2014. The proximity of the wave of minor immigrants and the resurgence of Enterovirus led many to conclude the children brought the strain from their home countries and caused the outbreak.

Some pundits placed blame for the outbreak of EV-D68 and a recent case of Ebola in Dallas at the feet of President Obama. Phyllis Schlafly said:

There are all kinds of diseases in the rest of the world, and we don't want them in this country. And it's Obama's job to keep them out.

Out of all the things he's done, I think this thing of letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people is just the most outrageous of all.

That was the purpose of Ellis Island — to have a waiting place where it was decided whether people were healthy enough or responsible enough to come into our country. The idea that anybody can just walk in and carry this disease with them is just an outrage, and it is Obama's fault because he's responsible for doing it.

Obama doesn't want America to believe that we're exceptional. He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That's his attitude.

Fueling speculation in part was a research article published in 2013 in Virology Journal titled "Human rhinoviruses and enteroviruses in influenza-like illness in Latin America." That study was often referenced in such rumors despite the fact it did not specifically address a higher prevalence of such illnesses in the Central/Latin America region. Many readers mistakenly conflated the location of the study's participants with the location of an epidemic or geographic predilection for contracting and transmitting the virus, when in actuality Latin America was simply the place from which data was collected for the research.

The rumor was addressed by MLive after the claim spread heavily in Michigan. Experts explained that Enterovirus strains have been in the United States for more than 50 years, with EV-D68 first being detected in 1987:

Enterovirus was first detected in the United States in 1962, according to the CDC. The specific EV-D68 strain was first detected in 1987, said Eden Wells, Clinical Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

"I think that this really sort of argues against the fact that this is a new virus introduced by anybody," Wells said.

Dr. Matthew Davis, the state's Chief Medical Executive with the Michigan Department of Community Health, said that "While it's theoretically possible that someone from any part of the world can bring an infection to another part of the world, it seems unlikely that children from Central America have brought this particular enterovirus strain into the United States."

Media figures such as Schlafly and Pat Robertson have speculated that the EV-D68 outbreak started with immigrant children, with Robertson blaming minor migrants who have carried "with them viruses that we were not familiar with in the United States and haven't built up immunity to." Given that the particular strain of the virus now affecting Americans was recorded in the U.S. as far back as 1987, the claim that the current outbreak of Enterovirus D68 is due solely or primarily to that strain's being carried to the U.S. by immigrant children is a problematic one.

Last updated:   13 October 2014


    Bremmer, Paul.   "Mystery Virus Found Where Illegal Alien Kids Sent."

    WND.   8 October 2014.

    Hananoki, Eric.   "Conservatives Falsely Blame Undocumented Children for Deadly Enterovirus."

    Media Matters for America.   8 October 2014.

    Lawler, Emily.

  "Enterovirus Outbreak Likely Not Coming from Undocumented Children, Experts Say."

    MLive.   6 October 2014.

    Garcia, Josefina et al.

  "Human Rhinoviruses and Enteroviruses in Influenza-Like Illness in Latin America."

    Virology Journal.   11 October 2013.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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