Health officials have cautioned parents across Canada and U.S for a rare, polio-like condition that can result in long-term paralysis in young children. They are also concerned that the coronavirus pandemic could complicate a surge in cases. The condition, which is known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), has been attacking children for many years though at low levels but tends to peak every other year. The last surge of cases was reported in 2018 in the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of a possible outbreak this fall after the AFM emerged in the U.S., with 16 confirmed cases and 38 under investigation. Since parents may hesitate to take their children to the doctor due to fear of the novel coronavirus, health officials are worried that the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic may complicate an outbreak of the condition. Among the symptoms of AFM is an onset of weakness in one or more limbs due to swelling in the spinal cord. This is attributed to several different infections, including autoimmune diseases, and enteroviruses or West Nile virus.
Severe cases may require the use of a ventilator because of respiratory failure. Children suffer long-term paralysis and muscle weakness and require ongoing care though some children recover quickly. For example, a six-year-old Xavier was diagnosed with the condition in 2018. Her mother, Rachelle Downton, reported seeing him when he was utterly paralyzed, where his eyes were moving, but he couldn’t turn his head, that was hard. She added that it was terrifying because there was no cure by then. There are some treatments that they’ll use at the hospital, but it’s not 100 percent and while a patient is in the acute phase. Xavier is slowly recovering two years after his diagnosis.
The height of the COVID-19 outbreak put on hold ongoing physiotherapy. Due to an imbalance in his hips, Xavier walks with a limp. Downton added that they didn’t think he was ever going to walk again. He took his first step just short of a year. She said that his health has been amazing, though physically, he still has his limits and some parts of him that don’t work really well.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) spokesperson indicated that in light of rising case numbers in the U.S, they had increased ongoing surveillance of the condition. He added that this year, there had been less than five cases of AFM in Canada. They are expected to release a detailed report of AFM prevalence in Canada in the fall. Dr. Christos Karatzios, the Pediatric infectious diseases specialist, who treated three or four AFM patients in 2018, indicated that parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child suffers sudden facial drooping, arm or leg weakness, or loss of reflexes, although the condition is rare.
Karatzios also indicated that what parents have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic is what they should do to help prevent the transmission of the viruses that cause acute flaccid myelitis. They should wash their hands and not touch faces. The CDC released the results of a study done after the last AFM outbreak in 2018 in early August, when 238 cases were confirmed across the U.S. Many of the cases, with fever or respiratory illness approximately six days before suffering limb weakness, were young children, with an average age of five-years-old. EV-D68, a type of enterovirus, was the most common virus identified among AFM patients.