Public Health officials in the UK are currently investigating a sudden—and unexplained—rise in cases of a condition that causes weakness or paralysis, much like polio. Unfortunately, this mysterious ailment mostly affects children.
In England, throughout 2018, at least 28 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) have been reported. This rare—and quite debilitating condition—is very similar to another condition that is on the rise in the United States. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 165 confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) across 36 states. Last year (2017) there were 35 cases of AFM reported last year, but 149 total cases were reported in 2016.
Currently, there are 320 total reports of illness that are being investigated as potential AFM cases.
The South Dakota Department of Health, for example, has reported its first case of AFM this year. The condition peaks in the fall, so hopefully this will be their only case. Still, this patient’s condition was reported in November and they were hospitalized for “mild respiratory illness” after an initial assessment found a fever and muscle weakness.
Another suspected case of AFM has been reported in Washington state, as well.
Ninety percent of acute flaccid myelitis affect children. The condition often develops as a result of viral infection and that means it is also typically easy to avoid it. By adhering to daily health regimens like washing hands (and limiting exposure to germs, overall) you can reduce potential infection from all kinds of viruses.
When it comes to viral infection, though, Public Health England epidemiologist Dr. Shamez Ladhani comments that the most common type of virus associated with the development of AFP (or, perhaps, AFM) is the enterovirus. And there are more than 100 types of this virus.
Dr. Ladhani warns, “The vast majority of those with enterovirus infection, and especially young children, either develop no symptoms at all, or they develop mild, self-limiting respiratory illness.”
Enterovirus infection is usually mild, with symptoms that resemble the common cold as well as coughs and sometimes diarrhea. Ladhani also advises that—as with all viral infections—there is no cure but most people will recover on their own, without any need for medical intervention. Still, it is important to seek medical assistance if you suspect you—and especially your child—are infected with enterovirus or have developed one of these related conditions (AFM or AFP).