• By Dana Sparks

CDC reports an increase in cases of rare acute flaccid myelitis

October 8, 2018

a female physician examining a young child in mom's lap, pressing on the child's abdomenAn uptick in cases of acute flaccid myelitis has been reported since August 2014, according to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC). To date, the CDC has received information from across the U.S. of more than 360 cases. Six of those cases have been recorded in Minnesota since September.

Acute flaccid myelitis is a polio like condition that causes weakness in a person's arms and legs, most often occurring in children.

"Cases of acute flaccid myelitis in children are rare but understandably very worrisome for families, doctors and public health professionals," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse (Nih-poon-ee Raj-ah-pock-see), a Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious diseases specialist. "And many groups are working together to try and identify the cause or causes of the increase in that have been recently reported, specifically in Minnesota."

"Contact your health care provider as soon as possible if your child experiences symptoms such as sudden muscle weakness in the arms or leg, a weak or stiff neck, drooping eyelids or face, or difficulty swallowing or slurred speech." — Dr. Marc Patterson

The CDC says there are a variety of possible causes for acute flaccid myelitis, such as viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders.

"Despite extensive testing by local labs and the CDC, for a wide range of pathogens, no one has been able to consistently detect any specific pathogen in the spinal fluid or other specimens from all patients diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis," says Dr. Rajapakse. "Some previously reported cases, including many back in 2014, were associated with infection with a type of enterovirus called 'EV-D68'. However this virus has not been found in all of the cases that have been tested and the exact role it plays in acute flaccid myelitis remains unclear."

"In most people, enteroviruses cause no symptoms, or very mild symptoms, such as stomach upset or diarrhea," says Dr. Marc Patterson, a Mayo Clinic pediatric neurologist. "They rarely cause a paralyzing disease, such as acute flaccid myelitis." But, Dr. Patterson adds, "Contact your health care provider as soon as possible if your child experiences symptoms such as sudden muscle weakness in the arms or leg, a weak or stiff neck, drooping eyelids or face, or difficulty swallowing or slurred speech."

"While there is no direct treatment for the virus itself, supportive care can be given," says Dr. Patterson. "It’s also important to recognize the illness as soon as possible so that appropriate physical therapy can be pursued and to consider whether surgical options are possible to help damaged nerves."

Drs. Patterson and Rajapakse offer these reminders, while researchers learn more about this condition and its exact cause:

  • Avoid getting sick and spreading germs to other people.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
  • Protect against mosquito bites.
  • Stay home from school and work if you are sick.
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