Rare Polio-Type Illness Confirmed in 14 States Oct 17, 2018 13:58:52 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Oct 17, 2018 13:58:52 GMT -5
Rare Polio-Type Illness Confirmed in 14 States
Yesterday, federal health officials took the unusual step of warning the public about an increase in a mysterious and rare condition that mostly affects children and can cause paralysis. So far this year, 127 confirmed or suspected cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) in 22 states have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – a significant increase over 2017 and a worrying perpetuation of a disease for which there is little understanding.
The CDC has been unable to get to the bottom of the sudden spike in this rare illness. “I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we have not been able to find the cause of this mystery illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a call with reporters.
Symptoms can include sudden limb weakness, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, facial and eyelid drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and, in the most severe cases, difficulty breathing. What happens to patients down the line is unclear; some recover quickly, while others may need long-term care. The CDC is urging parents and children to immediately seek medical attention in cases of weakness in the arms or legs.
Some scientists believe AFM may result from a viral infection. Neurological issues are often triggered by viruses, genetic conditions or environmental factors.
After testing patients’ stool specimens, the CDC determined poliovirus is not the cause of the AFM cases. Several other causes were also eliminated, including the respiratory illness enterovirus, the cold-causing rhinovirus and West Nile Virus, which is carried by mosquitoes. The agency is investigating other causes such as toxic chemicals. “This is a mystery so far and we haven’t found it yet, so we have to be thinking broadly,” Messonnier added.
While the majority of people who become infected are under the age of 18, approximately 10 percent are adults. The average age of infection is 4-years-old.
Although rare, the condition is very serious, what Messonnier described as a “pretty dramatic disease.”
Infected children are sometimes hooked up to a ventilator in the intensive care unit to help them breathe and while many children recover, others become paralyzed. Last year one child died from the illness. “We don't know who is at higher risk or the reasons why they may be at higher risk,” Messonnier explained. “We don’t fully understand the long-term consequences.”
At least 386 patients have been infected with AFM since 2014 and there is no cure. The latest outbreak surpasses last year’s total, but is still short of the 149 cases reported in 2016.
Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist who has treated children with AFM at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, admitted AFM is “exquisitely rare.” But, he added, if a child is diagnosed, parents should prepare for extensive physical therapy, which isn’t always covered by insurance. Some children paralyzed by AFM have eventually regained their ability to walk, but it takes time. “Families really sticking with it are seeing slow but steady recovery,” he said.
States with confirmed cases are Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. Those with possible cases are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma and Washington.
Sources: Kimberly Leonard, The Washington Examiner, October 16, 2018; Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post, October 16, 2018; and Elizabeth Cohen and Michael Nedelman, CNN, October 16, 2018.