In 2014, 120 children across 34 states were stricken with mysterious muscle weakness. Another wave hit in 2016 with 149 kids affected in 39 states. So far this year there have been 127 cases in 22 states reported, but the actual number may be higher. As parents and health care workers, we need to pay attention to this deadly outbreak!
The syndrome is suspected to be caused by one or more viruses. Enterovirus D68 is a virus in the same family as polio and was closely linked to the 2014 cases. In Colorado the syndrome has been associated with enterovirus A71. It’s a strain more common in SE Asia. Samples from patients revealed the presence of enteroviruses, but others have been infected with a rhinovirus. The CDC hasn’t ruled out environmental toxins or autoimmune disorder as potential causes.
Acute flaccid myelitis causes weakness in the arms and legs, but can affect other muscle groups. In more severe cases, patients suffer respiratory failure when the muscles involved with breathing become weak. The majority of children with this have limited motor recovery and continued disability.
What can we do about it? Right now there isn’t a vaccine that can protect children from it. The best thing to do is to encourage children to wash their hands and cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing. Parents of a sick child should be on the lookout for signs of weakness in the arms and legs. If a child develops an upper respiratory infection and any hint of weakness in the limbs, the parent should have their child evaluated immediately by a pediatrician or ER facility.