Aug 4, 2020 - Health

CDC warns of uptick of rare polio-like illness in kids

Electron microscope photo of EV-D68, a suspect in causing AFM. Photo: Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Yiting Zhang/CDC

The CDC on Tuesday warned of an expected uptick in cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like illness that can disable and sometimes kill children.

Why it matters: The agency cautioned parents to overcome any reluctance driven by the coronavirus pandemic and urgently bring their kids to the hospital should they suspect a case — especially if they exhibit a telltale symptom like limb weakness.

  • Based on evidence collected since 2014 by the CDC, AFM experiences an uptick every other year, and is expected to recur from now through November.
  • Scientists are still hunting down the cause of AFM, but CDC officials expressed concern parents may delay seeking medical help when "early and aggressive" therapy is needed as soon as possible.
  • As of July 31, 16 cases were confirmed and 38 were under investigation.

What they're saying: "Unfortunately, many kids with AFM will have permanent disability," said Thomas Clark, the deputy director of the CDC's viral diseases division, at a press briefing.

  • "It's really important that kids get into rehabilitation — early and aggressive physical therapy [and] occupational therapy can help strengthen the function that they do retain, and help them go about their lives with the best functioning possible," he added.

By the numbers: Clark and CDC Director Robert Redfield discussed the findings of the agency's latest Vital Signs report. It examined evidence from the 2018 season, which had 238 confirmed patients who had a median age of 5.3 years old.

  • Most (92%) had a fever, respiratory illness or both before the onset of weakness.
  • In addition to weakness, common symptoms include gait difficulty (52%), neck or back pain (47%), fever (35%) and limb pain (34%).
  • Among the 211 who were outpatients when the weakness began, 64% sought treatment at an emergency department.
  • 23% required intubation and mechanical ventilation.

How it works: Researchers continue seeking the cause, although "most patients" had the enterovirus EV-D68 in their system. However, there was a cluster in Colorado that had EV-A71 — and not all patients show either enterovirus.

  • A possible vaccine for EV-D68 is in preclinical phase trials, Redfield said.

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