Recently, when a big-eyed, overweight, beige cat emerged as the meme for heavy breathing and earned center stage on YouTube (heavy-breathing cat) and Tumblr (ditto), it seemed a harmless way to express how you feel when overwhelmed by exercise or even a romantic embrace.
But the not-so-cute heavy breathing triggered by enterovirus D-68 that's swept through parts of North America since mid-August isn't harmless at all.
From coast to coast in the U.S. and in Canada, hundreds and hundreds of people have been treated for severe respiratory illness; some needed hospitalization.
Affecting mostly infants, kids and teens (their immune system hasn't fully developed), this enterovirus can cause coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever and rapid breathing. Kids with asthma are most severely affected.
Adults who have been exposed to the virus before may develop mild, cold-like symptoms.
But for anyone, when breathing becomes labored - 20 breaths a minute as opposed to the standard 12 - it's time to get to the ER.
Your best protection from this fast-traveling bug?
Wash hands frequently and thoroughly (20 seconds under water with lots of lather). Keep your hands off your face and away from your mouth.
Disinfect (using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, never antibacterial or antimicrobial products) doorknobs and other shared surfaces frequently.
And keep each family member's immune system healthy by making sure everyone gets enough sleep; at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity; five to nine servings of fruits and veggies a day; and all of you share immune-boosting smiles frequently!
© 2014 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
© King Features Syndicate