Health officials in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut are reporting their first cases of enterovirus, a potentially serious respiratory illness more likely found in infants and children, sometimes resulting in hospitalization.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed New Jersey’s first case from a specimen sent to the CDC from a Philadelphia hospital. The child has since improved and been discharged.

The New York state health department confirmed a case of enterovirus in Nassau County on Wednesday. A school-aged girl from North Hempstead got sick in September and is now recovering. The Nassau County Health Department has reported no other suspected cases at this time.

New York City also now has a case of enterovirus in a child, according to health officials.

The New York State Department of Health has confirmed more than a dozen children have EV-D68 in the Capital Region, Central New York, and New York City. Specimens have been received from other regions for testing. Testing can take up to a week.

Other local cases may be popping up in Westchester County, where four to five children are now being treated at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

From mid-August to Wednesday, a total of 140 people from 16 states were confirmed to have virus. The cases were confirmed by the CDC or state public health laboratories that notified CDC.

The hospitalized children, who range in age from 6 months to 6 years, are all said to be doing well. They all reportedly suffer from asthma, a prime risk factor for catching the virus.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health also confirmed its first case of enterovirus D68 on Thursday. The child, who was recently hospitalized, has since improved and been discharged.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say they have more than 130 lab-confirmed cases from the tri-state area, Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. All are children.

The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. Kids with asthma have been especially vulnerable. No deaths have been reported.

To help protect yourself and others from enterovirus infections:

Wash your hands often with soap and water

Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands

Avoid close contact (kissing, touching, sharing eating utensils and shaking hands) with people who are sick

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as door knobs and toys

Stay home when sick and call your healthcare provider

Use good respiratory hygiene; coughing and sneezing into a tissue or elbow and properly disposing of tissues.

The strain is not new but only a small number of labs can test for it. Since mid-August, there’s been an unusual spike in identified cases. The CDC has tested more than 200 specimens from more than 30 states.

Investigators say it’s not yet clear what triggered the outbreak or whether it’s worsening.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd is advising parents and health care providers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this respiratory illness with symptoms that range from mild to severe. Although enteroviruses are very common-especially in the late summer and fall, this form occurs less commonly than other enterovirus infections.

Some 10 to 15 million enterovirus cases occur in the U.S. each year.

Enteroviruses are transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Typically, EV-D68 causes upper respiratory symptoms such as cough, runny nose, sneezing and body/muscle aches and possibly low-grade fever. Infected individuals generally recover on their own without incident. However, some individuals, especially those with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, may experience severe complications and require hospitalization with supportive therapy.

“If you, or your child, are experiencing cold like symptoms and are having difficulty breathing, contact your health care provider right away,” O’Dowd said.

The New Jersey Health Department has been in communication with hospitals, local health departments, healthcare providers, child care centers and schools over the last week to monitor the situation and provide testing guidance. About a dozen specimens are being sent to the CDC for testing to determine if the EV-D68 type is present.

The preventive steps people can take to avoid becoming ill and the treatment are similar to those of most illnesses like the flu. Good hand hygiene is your best defense against getting infected with enterovirus.

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