Enterovirus Blamed for Polio-Like Acute Flaccid Myelitis in Kids

Researchers announced new evidence Monday that a virus is responsible for the sudden paralysis caused by polio-like acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

The exact cause of AFM has not been determined. But in the study published in Nature, scientists discovered immune reactions to two types of enterovirus in 70% of fluid samples from children with AFM. These reactions appeared in only 6% of samples from a control group of children with neurological conditions other than AFM.

Specifically, the study identified antibodies for enterovirus strains D68 and A71.

Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) caused a nationwide outbreak from Aug. 2014 to Jan. 2015, according to the CDC. During this outbreak, the virus sickened 1,153 people in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Almost all the individuals infected were children who also had a history of asthma or wheezing, the CDC said. Health officials identified the virus in 14 patients who died during the outbreak.

What Is Acute Flaccid Myelitis?

Acute flaccid myelitis is an extremely rare condition of the nervous system that causes the muscles and reflexes of the body to weaken, the CDC says. It may be spread to humans by mosquitoes, but people cannot spread AFM.

AFM symptoms include a sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes, according to the CDC. Other symptoms can include facial droop, eyelid droop, difficulty moving the eyes, facial weakness, slurred speech, or problems with swallowing. The most serious potential symptom is respiratory failure.

Lab tests are required to diagnose AFM. The CDC says the rare condition occurs in less than one in a million people in the United States every year.

The agency says scientists have proposed a variety of causes of AFM, including viruses, but also environmental toxins and genetic disorders.

What Is Enterovirus?

Enterovirus infections are extremely common. They belong to the family of RNA viruses, according to . He said most people infected with enteroviruses have mild symptoms or none at all. Why some of these cases develop into AFM is unknown.

Unlike AFM itself, enterovirus infections are highly contagious, Dr. Davis said. Even if they do not develop AFM, people infected with enterovirus may nonetheless experience significant health symptoms:

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