Rare childhood paralyzing disease could make a comeback in the United States

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Rare childhood paralyzing disease could make a comeback in the United States


Peaks of the disease have occurred every two years from August to November since 2014. In 2018, 238 cases were reported in the United States.


An ambulance drops off a patient at a hospital near Miami.


© AFP
An ambulance drops off a patient at a hospital near Miami.


Alert in the United States. The US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) on Tuesday warned parents and doctors about the likely return of a very rare neurological condition called acute flaccid paralysis, possibly caused by a virus and which both mysteriously returns years, mainly in children.

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The CDC predicts that “2020 will be another peak year for cases of acute flaccid paralysis,” or “AFM” in English. “AFM is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention and immediate monitoring,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said on Tuesday in a press call, imploring parents not to hesitate to hospitalize their child despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Illness peaks both since 2014

Peaks of the disease have occurred every two years from August to November since 2014. In 2018, 238 cases were reported in the United States, with an average age of five years. Doctors are helpless: the disease can cause paralysis within hours or days, and no treatment has shown efficacy.

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“Unfortunately, many children with AFM will have permanent disabilities,” said Thomas Clark, pediatrician and assistant director of viral diseases at the CDC. “It is very important that children start rehabilitation very quickly.” Authorities are recontacting families affected by the 2018 epidemic to find out how the disease has evolved in infected children, and how many remain paralyzed to this day.

The first warning signs

The warning signs of the disease are first fever and respiratory symptoms then, after an average of six days, weakness in the arms or legs, sometimes accompanied by difficulty in gait, pain in the neck or the back, according to a 2018 All-Case Report released on Tuesday.

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In addition to permanent paralysis, it can also progress to serious respiratory complications, with nearly a quarter of patients needing an artificial respirator. The disease affects the nervous system, mainly in the spinal cord, according to MRI scans done on patients. The main suspects are viruses in the enterovirus family, especially enterovirus D68, found in around 30 patients, but CDC experts cannot rule out that another virus is causing the disease.

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