Rare cases of a nervous system disorder being reported

Stock image of a sick child

Stock image of a sick child

Between August 2014 and August 2018, the CDC received 362 cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). Viruses in the enterovirus genus - a group that includes the common cold and the polio virus - are most closely associated with AFM, though past cases have also been linked to West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, Saint Louis encephalitis, and adenoviruses.

Symptoms include limb weakness, facial drooping, and trouble swallowing or speaking.

"The CDC has indicated there might be some increases in cases, and in mid-September we advised health care providers to be vigilant and report to the health department so that we can pass on the information to the CDC", Arnold said. The severe form the disease can cause neurologic symptoms, including encephalitis and AFM.

He emphasized that early work-up is helpful for finding the underlying cause of the AFM cases and added that most children eventually recover from the damage from the spinal cord inflammation. "Among the people confirmed with AFM, CDC did not consistently detect EV-D68 in every patient". It can often infect people with mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Although acute flaccid myelitis is terrifying, Adalja says parents should not stay awake at night worrying about it.

Kris Ehresmann with the state Health Department advises parents, "Any kind of acute muscle weakness in their kids, in arms and legs, that obviously doesn't have anything to do with spraining your ankle at soccer, that definitely they should seek medical attention". Most patients must be hospitalized. Treatment and therapy can restore lost mobility over time, but a loss of the muscular function to breathe can be deadly. But a few still have partial paralysis and depending on which muscles are affected, children may need ventilators to help them breathe and may have to use wheelchairs.

Quinton Hill is one of six cases of AFM in Minnesota reported since September 20. A doctor can also do an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to look at a patient's brain and spinal cord, do lab tests on the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord) and may check nerve conduction (impulse sent along a nerve fiber) and response.

But there's not much else that parents can do to protect their children. So, just be sure to practice smart prevention measures such as getting vaccinated, washing your hands and avoiding bug bites.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written by Maggie Fox, NBC News.

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