COVID-19 has been getting all the attention, but the CDC is getting worried about the possibility of a rise in a mysterious condition that causes childhood paralysis. Acute flaccid myelitis or AFM can start innocently enough with sniffles or a cough, fever and headache. But then it may progress to paralysis (Vital Signs, online Aug. 4, 2020). Some children have trouble eating and nearly a fourth have trouble breathing and require ventilation. The majority of the affected youngsters have been young—four, five or six years old.
What Causes Childhood Paralysis?
The cause of AFM is not known, but infectious disease experts suspect that an enterovirus could be the primary culprit. Cases of this rare condition leading to childhood paralysis seem to surge every two years. In 2018, there were 238 cases reported, with just 46 detected last year. As a result, epidemiologists are concerned that there may be another large number of cases this year.
When Should Parents Seek Care?
Doctors worry that parents may be reluctant to take children to the emergency department when they start to develop symptoms. Fears of the novel coronavirus could be a barrier. Most doctors want parents to bring their child for care; just call ahead for any special instructions about how to limit exposure.
Although there is no cure, early aggressive treatment may limit the damage from this childhood paralysis. Consequently, experts urge parents to seek medical care as soon as they suspect a problem.
Some physicians hope that measures designed to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 might also limit the transmission of enteroviruses. If everyone is conscientious about maintaining distance, washing hands and wearing masks, it might help lower the cases of acute flaccid myelitis.