Polio-Like Illness Affecting Children Reappears in Texas

Cases of a polio-like mystery illness are cropping up again across the country and the majority of those stricken are children. While considered rare, it is a virus that can lead to paralysis and death. Over a dozen cases sprung up in Texas recently.

The condition is called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) and nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed diagnosing 89 people in 33 states with AFM through September 30. Most of these patients were children. In Texas, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) confirmed 14 AFM cases this year, so far. Eleven of these cases are known to be children.

Last weekend, the disease took the life of a Washington State boy. KOMO reported the six-year-old battled AFM before dying last Sunday, October 30. He was one of eight children at Seattle Children’s Hospital being treated for the little understood and uncommon illness.

AFM is a virus that targets the body’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord. According to the CDC, acute flaccid myelitis begins with weakness in the arms or legs. Other symptoms include a loss of muscle tone, impaired or absent reflexes, facial weakness, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, breathing and/or swallowing difficulties, and gastrointestinal infections. It can lead to paralysis and death.

In 2014, AFM cases spiked the highest seen so far in a trend that began in August and dropped off in the late autumn months. Still, at year’s end, medical professionals diagnosed 120 cases in 34 states. Last year, only 21 individuals in 16 states were diagnosed, but this year, the number of cases is on the rise.

Although AFM is considered very rare, public health officials continue to keep a watchful eye. DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen told Breitbart Texas, “When something happens that we don’t have a complete explanation for, we want to try to figure it out what’s going on and we do the kind of epidemiological investigation that try to put those pieces together.”

In July, the DSHS issued a health advisory after receiving reports of seven Texas children suspected of having AFM in May and June. The CDC advised they are intensifying their efforts to figure out what causes AFM and puts people at risk. They suspect a possible connection between acute flaccid myelitis and germs as well as to viral infections like enterovirus, West Nile, the virus that causes polio, several types of encephalitis, and adenoviruses.

Van Deusen told Breitbart Texas, “This is a condition that could have a number of causes.” He continued, “We have not identified in any of the Texas cases any single common cause.” He added they do not see any patterns in the timing or location of the cases either. “They are really spread out over time and over geographic location.”

Texas public health officials point out these cases and those nationwide appeared to coincide with a multi-state outbreak of enterovirus D-68 (EVD-68), although they cannot not confirm a connection. “At this time, it is not clear if EVD-68 is associated with the current reports of AFM or if it is an incremental finding,” DSHS stated.

Two years ago, Breitbart Texas reported on an outbreak of the potentially deadly children’s respiratory virus, EVD-68, one of the more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses that was first identified in California in 1962. While most EVD-68 symptoms range from a mild cough and fever to a runny nose some patients experience uncharacteristic partial paralysis.

Recently, KXAS spoke to Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Health and an associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center who reiterated the rarity of paralysis with AFM but underscored the importance of seeking pediatric medical attention if a child develops any kind of weakness in the arms or legs.

For now, the DSHS advises the best defense is prevention. Van Deusen recommends people take the same precautions they would against any other viral infection and make sure vaccines are up-to-date, wash hands frequently with soap and water, cover coughs and sneezes, plus wear insect repellent to prevent viruses transmitted by mosquitoes.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.


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