Polio-like ‘mystery illness' paralyzes patients across the U.S

9NEWS at 5 p.m. 10/4/16.

KUSA - Doctors across the country are warning parents about a mystery virus that strikes with no warning and can lead to muscle weakness and even paralysis in some children.
It was first detected in 2014 and this year, doctors are seeing a comeback.

The virus is called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. It’s a rare complication of an enterovirus-- that often first appears like a common cold or respiratory illness, but in some cases, can result in numbness of the limbs, slurred speech, or even paralysis.

Two years ago, Dominick Howard was diagnosed with the illness. He was an 18-year-old high school senior and varsity soccer player. He hoped to spend all of his time in class and on the field but instead, he spent months in a hospital bed with a condition that puzzled doctors across the country. Howard said it all started with a sore throat.

“One day I woke up and I couldn’t swallow anymore and I was like, this is really weird,” Howard said,”Doctors said I had bronchitis.”

He was sent home, then a few days later his condition worsened. Howard said he woke up one morning and wasn’t able to move his neck, his arm, and still wasn’t able to swallow without coughing.

His mom, Leslie Howard, rushed him to Children’s Hospital Colorado where doctors admitted him in the ICU. Over the course of eight weeks, he underwent several tests and was placed on breathing and feeding tubes.

“It was really scary,” Howard said, “I kept telling my friends I would be out in a couple of days or next week, but I quickly realized how serious this was. We had no idea what was happening.”

Doctors diagnosed Howard with acute flaccid myelitis. Now, doctors across the country are worried that the same polio-like illness may be circulating again.

“My concern is that we are seeing a trend now in 2016 that mirrors what we saw in 2014,” Dr. Teri Schreiner, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 120 cases of AFM were reported in 2014. Only 21 cases were reported in 2015. However, so far in 2016, 50 cases have been reported in 24 states across the country.

“Our experience from 2014 taught us that the children who were more mildly affected actually had a very good recovery. It was the children that had more profound weakness who actually continued to have weakness, though they did make subtle improvements over the last two years,” Dr. Schreiner said.

As medical experts continue to search for the exact cause of the illness as well as a vaccine, patients like Howard hope for a full recovery.

‘I’m doing ok,” Howard said. “I still have to hold my face so that I can swallow better and I am gaining more movement in my arm. Optimistically I am hoping for a 100% recovery, but realistically, I’d say it’ll be 80 percent.”

Doctors believe AFM is a rare complication from Enterovirus D68, but Dr. Schreiner said more research needs to be done to definitively link the two together.

Medical experts are still unsure why the illness impacts some patients more severely than others.

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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