Paralysis

Mysterious polio-like illness could be from "hit and run" virus

Adapted from a CDC chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

Top U.S. disease experts shared commentary in MBio on Tuesday that acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), the rare illness that strikes mostly young children and causes limb weakness or paralysis, may be caused by a "hit and run" virus and could become more prolific — but research acceleration is needed to know more.

Why it matters: Researchers have been seeking the elusive cause of the illness — which rarely leaves traces of any causative agent in the spinal fluid as expected — since AFM popped onto the national radar as a major outbreak in 2014 and reached a record number in 2018.

Hunting down the cause of AFM

Data: CDC; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Public and private health officials are dedicating a good chunk of resources toward investigating acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), the rare polio-like illness that mainly strikes young children, not only because it's devastating but also due to concerns it could develop into something affecting larger numbers of people, an expert at Children's National Health System tells Axios.

Why it matters: While AFM reached a record high this year, the illness remains rare and some question the public resources dedicated to it. But "there's some concern that it could evolve to something larger" due to its similarity to polio, says Roberta DeBiasi, CNHS chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases. "It's better not to start when there's a large number of patients."