Mystery Illness Causing Paralysis in Children Baffles Doctors

Mystery Illness Causing Paralysis in Children Baffles Doctors

Parents in the metro are on guard after officials with the Douglas County Health Department revealed that there is a child in Douglas County possibly showing symptoms of a rare polio-like condition called acute flaccid myelitis or AFM.

Ehresmann noted that the sudden onset of muscle weakness is the most obvious sign. But since the definitive cause and transmission pattern of this disease are still unknown, the possibility of modeling it is uncertain.

AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, causing arms and legs to suddenly grow weak, sometimes leading to paralysis, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

But what is particularly confounding doctors is that the number of cases spikes only every other year - with larger numbers in 2014, 2016 and this year - and fewer cases in 2015 and 2017.

"Any weakness, including trouble swallowing, weakness of an extremity, especially in a child who has recently gone through signs of an infection, those would be the main red flags", said Sarah Hopkins.

While the cause of AFM is not clear, experts say it can occur as a result of a variety of viral illnesses including the polio virus, enteroviruses, West Nile virus, and adenoviruses.

According to the CDC 127 people are believed to be sick with the illness.

Dr. Leslie Benson, assistant director of Children's pediatric neuroimmunology program, said AFM patients show a wide spectrum of symptoms.

The CDC is investigating over 100 possible cases of the disease. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs".

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"[There's] nothing that provides the unifying diagnosis that we'd expect to explain these peaks of disease", Messonnier said.

So far this year the CDC confirmed 62 cases in 22 states. The average age of those diagnosed is 4 years old. Ninety percent of those affected are children.

"We want to see that education", he said, "in order to have early recognition and detection". To help prevent the illness' spread, the CDC advises proper hand washing, staying up to date on vaccines and using mosquito repellent to avoid bites.

While the symptoms are scary for parents, it's not likely your child will get it, Kerkering said the odds are less than 1 in a million. AFM appears to be seasonal, occurring mostly in the late summer and fall, but appears in greater numbers every other year. He redirects redundant nerves from other parts of the arm or abdomen to replace those lost to the disease.

AFM is still extremely rare. But treatments for the infection itself remain elusive.

Last year, one child died of the disease. The illness has caused at least one death.

The first cases of AFM coincided with an unusually severe outbreak of a common virus that affects the lungs or gut.

"Treatment options are quite limited", he said.

The CDC also hasn't ruled out either environmental toxins or some sort of autoimmune disorder as potential causes of AFM, Messonnier added.

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