A rapidly spreading respiratory virus called enterovirus has led to the hospitalization of children across the nation and has parents concerned. But what are the symptoms of the virus, and how can it be prevented?

Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, is a rare but potentially serious respiratory illness that can cause wheezing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, body aches, fever and rash. Because the symptoms are similar to that of a cold or the flu, parents must monitor their child for signs of the virus worsening.

If parents observe severe difficulty breathing, high fever and blue lips, they should take their child to the closest emergency room. In most cases, the virus is so much like that of the common cold, those affected do not realize they have the virus, and it will go away without instance.

The first reported case of the virus was from Kansas City, Missouri, when a patient at Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics was admitted after experiencing difficulty in breathing. Shortly after, a patient in a Chicago hospital experiencing similar symptoms tested positive for EV-D68. It has quickly spread, and 22 states now have confirmed cases.

Diagnosis is made through a swab of the patient's throat or nose. Because only a small number of labs across the country and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can test for the particular strain, that number is expected to increase due to a delay in confirmations.

The virus seems to disproportionately severely affect children, particularly those who have a history of asthma or respiratory issues. These children should be more closely monitored for difficulty in breathing. Health experts are unsure why children are most affected since little is known about the EV-D68 strain due to its rareness.

So far, however, there have been no reported deaths in any state. In the most serious of cases, children who have been hospitalized have received breathing assistance with oxygen and medicine.

Akin Demehin of the American Hospital Association ensures that although the virus can be serious, hospitals around the country are prepared to deal with an uptick in cases if necessary.

"When there is a notable increase in particular infections in communities — such as EV-D68 — hospitals work closely with their local and state public health departments and the CDC to report suspected cases, and to coordinate public educational efforts," Demehin told U.S. News & World Report.

The virus is spread through sneezing, coughing and touching contaminated surfaces. Infection can be prevented by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and by avoiding contact with those who exhibit symptoms.

Parents should keep their children home from school if they show symptoms of infection to prevent them from spreading the virus to others. Fever has only been present in a small number of cases, so it is important for parents to listen to their children if they say they are not feeling well and are having trouble breathing.