Virus shown to be likely cause of mystery polio-like illness

January 22, 2018, University of New South Wales
Virus shown to be likely cause of mystery polio-like illness
Credit: University of New South Wales

A major review by UNSW researchers has identified strong evidence that a virus called Enterovirus D68 is the cause of a mystery polio-like illness that has paralysed children in the US, Canada and Europe.

The study, by a team led by UNSW Professor Raina MacIntyre, Director of the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Epidemic Response, is published in the journal Eurosurveillance.

"In 2014, children in the US began to be diagnosed with a mystery that caused a polio-like paralysis," says Professor MacIntyre.

"More than 120 children developed the condition, known as acute flaccid myelitis, in the US alone but experts were baffled as to the cause."

That same year there were also unusually large outbreaks of infection with Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68 – a known since the early 1960s to cause runny noses, coughs, muscle aches, fever and difficulty breathing.

About 2280 people in the U.S., Canada and Europe were infected with the virus, many of them children, and their respiratory symptoms were more severe than usual.

Clusters of the paralysing illness, also mostly in children, were reported in the same regions.

"This raised the possibility of a link between EV-D68 and acute flaccid myelitis. However, the virus had never been known to cause paralysis before," says Professor MacIntyre.

For the new study, the UNSW team analysed the scientific literature on acute flaccid myelitis. They applied the Bradfield Hill criteria – a set of nine principles developed to determine causality that are named after the two researcher who used them to settle the debate about smoking causing lung cancer.

"The scientific method Bradfield and Hill used to prove that smoking caused cancer is now an accepted tool to determine causality," says Professor MacIntyre.

"We are first to use his approach to analyse the relationship between EV-D68 and acute flaccid myelitis. Our results show that it is very likely that EV-D68 is the cause of the mystery illness and the paralysis of .

"This link needs to be acknowledged so that can focus on prevention of infection.

"The incidence of EV-D68 infections is increasing worldwide, and a genetically distinct strain has recently evolved. There is no treatment or vaccine for the polio-like illness caused by EV-D68, which makes it important to act quickly to stop outbreaks."

The virus is still rare in Australia. Hygiene methods such as washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds can help prevent the spread of the virus.

Explore further: Scientists link unexplained childhood paralysis to enterovirus D68

More information: The association between acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) and Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) – what is the evidence for causation? Euro Surveill. doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2018.23.3.17-00310

Related Stories

Scientists link unexplained childhood paralysis to enterovirus D68

March 30, 2015
A research team led by UC San Francisco scientists has found the genetic signature of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) in half of California and Colorado children diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis - sudden, unexplained muscle ...

Researchers develop model for studying rare polio-like illness

February 23, 2017
Scientists, led by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, have developed the first animal model for studying paralysis caused by virus linked to a polio-like illness that paralyzed 120 children in 2014.

Researchers examine cases in California of neurological illness affecting limbs

December 22, 2015
There have been nearly 60 cases identified in California from 2012 - 2015 of acute flaccid myelitis, a rare syndrome described as polio-like, with most patients being children and young adults, according to a study in the ...

Child paralysis outbreak: UVA identifies potential cause

July 16, 2015
A mysterious outbreak of child paralysis cases previously linked to enterovirus D68 may instead have another cause, doctors at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital are cautioning after determining that a stricken ...

Polio paralyses 17 children in Syria: WHO

June 20, 2017
A polio outbreak in war-ravaged Syria has paralysed at least 17 children since March, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, describing the situation as "very serious".

Washington state polio-like cases linked to rare syndrome

November 5, 2016
Eight of nine children hospitalized in Washington state for a polio-like illness have a rare syndrome that causes varying degrees of limb weakness, state health officials confirmed on Friday.

Recommended for you

Tibetan sheep highly susceptible to human plague, originates from marmots

August 16, 2018
In the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, one of the region's highest risk areas for human plague, Himalayan marmots are the primary carriers of the infectious bacterium Y. pestis. Y. pestis infection can be transmitted to humans and ...

Autoimmunity plays role in development of COPD, study finds

August 16, 2018
Autoimmunity plays a role in the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a study led by Georgia State University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center that analyzed human genome information ...

Reliable point-of-care blood test can help prevent toxoplasmosis

August 16, 2018
A recent study, performed in Chicago and Rabat, Morocco, found that a novel finger-prick test for infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii during pregnancy—and many other potential applications—is 100 percent sensitive ...

Scientists identify nearly 200 potential tuberculosis drug targets

August 16, 2018
Tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Nearly 2 million people die every year from this infectious disease, and an estimated 2 billion people are chronically infected. The only vaccine, developed almost ...

First mouse model to mimic lung disease could speed discovery of more effective treatments

August 16, 2018
The biggest hurdle to finding effective therapies for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) – a life-threatening condition in which the lungs become scarred and breathing is increasingly difficult – has been the inability ...

Anticancer drug offers potential alternative to transplant for patients with liver failure

August 15, 2018
Patients suffering sudden liver failure could in the future benefit from a new treatment that could reduce the need for transplants, research published today shows.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.