There is still no clear cause for a mysterious paralytic condition that has been striking U.S. children over the past five years, government health officials report.
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspect that a virus of some kind is the culprit. But the specific germ causing the outbreaks remains unknown, according to the report published online Oct. 7 in the journal Pediatrics. AFM mainly affects the arms and legs but can also impair muscles needed for breathing, and some patients end up on a ventilator. At least half of AFM patients do not fully recover, the CDC has said. Sporadic cases of AFM — sometimes linked to various viral infections, but not always — have long been recognized. The CDC began closely monitoring the condition in 2014, after an unexpected surge in cases: 120 people in 34 states over a few months. Based on what’s known about all three seasonal “surges” so far, the leading hypothesis is that a virus is to blame, according to Dr. Janell Routh of the CDC’s division of viral diseases. In the new report, she and her colleagues describe the cases of 193 U.S. children who had confirmed cases of AFM between 2015 and 2017.”I think it’s fair to say it’s still the leading suspect in the biennial surges we’re seeing,” said Dr. Samuel Dominguez of Children’s Hospital Colorado and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora. Dominguez wrote an editorial published with the study.
If EV-D68, or another virus, is pinpointed as the cause, that would raise the question of what comes next. Dominguez said, “If you know what the pathogen is, and this (AFM) is becoming more common, would it be worth developing a vaccine? “For now, he and Routh said that while AFM remains relatively rare, parents should be aware of the signs: sudden weakness in the arms or legs; loss of muscle tone; and, in some cases, a “droop” on one side of the face or the eyelids.