Five things to know about the poliolike condition that has hospitalized two Chicago-area children

October 12, 2018 by Elvia Malagon, Chicago Tribune

At least two children who have been diagnosed with a rare but serious condition that weakens muscles and limits mobility are being treated in Chicago, according to Lurie Children's Hospital.

The parents of a Batavia 2-year-old, Julia Payne, went public in hopes of raising awareness for acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, which causes inflammation in the spinal cord area that directly affects a person's muscles. Now the downtown Chicago hospital says a second child is being treated there, but the family in the second case did not want to be identified.

The two children are among nine recent cases of AFM—all involving minors—reported across the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Just last month, the department issued an alert to medical providers about AFM and how to properly report it. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been tracking cases in the United States, says the condition isn't new but reports that nationwide saw an uptick in cases starting in 2014.

It has been compared with polio because the condition can lead to paralysis. The causes of AFM vary from viruses to environmental toxins to genetic disorders, according to the state health department. The CDC has not identified a germ that has been found in every case of AFM, according to its website.

Here are five things to know about AFM:

-How many children have been diagnosed with AFM?

Since the CDC began tracking AFM cases four years ago, at least 362 cases have been logged nationwide, according to the agency's website. This year alone there have been 38 people diagnosed with the disease across 16 states.

-What are the symptoms?

Like many children, Julia, the toddler at Lurie, started to show signs of weakness and problems breathing on her own after a prolonged cold, said Dr. Marcelo Malakooti, the medical director for Lurie's pediatric intensive care unit. But those aren't the only signs: Other symptoms can include eyelid or facial drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech, according to the state health department.

-What's the treatment?

There is no known cure for AFM, but doctors can provide supportive care to patients. There isn't a vaccine that could prevent AFM and there isn't a vaccine that causes the condition, medical experts said. A medical report detailing the case of a 12-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with AFM noted that caring for patients with the condition often means involving an infectious disease physician, a neurologist, an orthotist, a physical therapist and a speech therapist.

For Julia, doctors did a type of dialysis to clear out her blood, and she has a ventilator to help her breathe. She soon will be transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation center where she will continue physical therapy.

-Do patients make a full recovery?

Answering that question is complicated, said Mark Schleiss, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He was among those who treated a 12-year-old boy diagnosed last month with AFM at a Minneapolis hospital. The child was hospitalized for five days and given intensive outpatient physical therapy, according to the report.

The condition targets the spinal cord area that directly affects a person's muscles. The cells that are killed during the illness don't regenerate and the damage to the cells is irreversible, Schleiss explained. However, the patients can regain functionality of the muscles through . Another medical expert said surgery was an option in severe cases.

-Is it contagious? Any prevention tips?

While AFM itself isn't contagious, the viruses that may lead to AFM are. In Chicago, doctors say Julia had an enterovirus that caused the AFM. On its website, the CDC explains that nonpolio enteroviruses, which normally don't make people sick and if they do, it's often the common cold, can cause AFM.

"Scientifically, we don't understand why only some children will go on to develop AFM," Schleiss said. "Most kids just have a fever for a couple of days and maybe a rash or diarrhea."

Experts say good hygiene and making sure little ones are washing their hands can prevent the spread of viruses and germs.

Explore further: Nine cases of polio-like illness suspected in children in illinois

Related Stories

Nine cases of polio-like illness suspected in children in illinois

October 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Nine recent cases of a rare, polio-like disorder in children are being investigated in Illinois, health officials said yesterday.

Polio-like condition in children on rise again in the US

October 10, 2018
(HealthDay)—A rare, polio-like condition in children is on the rise again in the United States, with 38 confirmed cases in 16 states so far this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

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.

Children's Colorado doctors conclude EV-D68 likely cause of acute flaccid myelitis

February 26, 2018
A team of doctors and scientists from the U.S. and Europe led by Kevin Messacar, MD, an infectious disease specialist from Children's Hospital Colorado (Children's Colorado), has found that Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is a likely ...

Florida urges vaccinations after 3 measles cases reported

August 16, 2018
Health officials are urging parents to make sure their children are vaccinated against measles after three cases of the disease were reported in a Florida county, among more than 100 cases throughout the U.S. this year.

Virus probed in paralysis cases in 9 US kids

September 27, 2014
(AP)—Health officials are investigating nine cases of muscle weakness or paralysis in Colorado children and whether the culprit might be a virus causing severe respiratory illness across the country.

Recommended for you

New hope for cystic fibrosis

October 19, 2018
A new triple-combination drug treatment being trialled at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane could increase the life expectancy of patients with cystic fibrosis.

Bug guts shed light on Central America Chagas disease

October 18, 2018
In Central America, Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, is spread by the "kissing bug" Triatoma dimidiata. By collecting DNA from the guts of these bugs, researchers reporting in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases ...

Rapid genomic sequencing of Lassa virus in Nigeria enabled real-time response to 2018 outbreak

October 18, 2018
Mounting a collaborative, real-time response to a Lassa fever outbreak in early 2018, doctors and scientists in Nigeria teamed up with researchers at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and colleagues to rapidly sequence the ...

Researchers cure drug-resistant infections without antibiotics

October 17, 2018
Biochemists, microbiologists, drug discovery experts and infectious disease doctors have teamed up in a new study that shows antibiotics are not always necessary to cure sepsis in mice. Instead of killing causative bacteria ...

Infectious disease consultation significantly reduces mortality of patients with bloodstream yeast infections

October 17, 2018
In a retrospective cohort study conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases, patients with candidemia—a yeast infection in the bloodstream—had more positive outcomes as they relate ...

How drug resistant TB evolved and spread globally

October 17, 2018
The most common form of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) originated in Europe and spread to Asia, Africa and the Americas with European explorers and colonialists, reveals a new study led by UCL and the Norwegian Institute ...


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.