Mystery Polio-Like Illness Strikes Children


It presents like polio, but the cause is unknown.

It’s called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM), is very rare, and largely not understood.

Dr. Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, says it presents in young children as a respiratory illness before causing paralysis in muscle tissue.  “It’s similar to polio, so it’s weakness in the arms and other muscles following a respiratory illness and the most serious thing that can happen is if it affects your lungs,” she tells KTRH News.

The Centers for Disease Control say there have been 386 reported cases in the U.S. from August 2014 through September 2018, and as of October 16 there had been ten cases reported in Texas, one in Harris County and one in Galveston County.  Texas doesn’t require that AFM be reported so there could be additional cases.

“If your child has a respiratory illness and starts to show any signs of muscle weakness it’s important to get them in to a health care provider right away,” advises Dr. Troisi.  She says 90% of the cases have been in patients under the age of 18, with four being the average.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that has been seeing a spike in reported incidences of the disease on an every-other-year basis: there were waves similar to what is being seen now in 2014 and 2016.

Dr. Troisi says as we go into flu season this is one more reason to make sure your child is vaccinated.  The vaccine won’t affect your child’s susceptibility to AFM, but it could cut down on the number of respiratory illnesses you’ll have to worry about this year.

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