COVID-19 measures could disrupt rare polio-like disease

COVID-19 measures could disrupt rare polio-like disease

NEW YORK — Health experts once thought 2020 might be the worst year yet for a rare paralyzing disease that has been hitting U.S. children for the past decade.

But they now say the coronavirus pandemic could disrupt the pattern for the mysterious illnesses, which spike every other year starting in late summer.

Scientists say it’s possible that mask wearing, school closures and others measures designed to stop spread of the coronavirus may also hamper spread of the virus suspected of causing the paralyzing disease.

Dr. David Kimberlin, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, called it “the million-dollar question.”

“We just simply don’t know right now,” said Kimberlin, who is co-leader of a national study to gather specimens from children who develop the paralyzing condition.

The pandemic is dominating public health work right now, but officials are trying to draw attention to the polio-like condition they call acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday made a public call for parents and doctors to watch for it, and act.

“We are concerned that in the midst of a COVID pandemic, that (AFM) cases might not be recognized. Or we’re concerned that parents might be worried about taking their child to the doctors with something as serious as limb weakness,” said Dr. Thomas Clark, a CDC official overseeing AFM surveillance.

That was a problem before COVID-19. In 2018, 10% of patients were not hospitalized until four or more days after limb weakness started, the CDC reported.

Hundreds of U.S. children have developed AFM since 2014. Most had a cold-like illness and fever, seemed to get over it, then descended into paralysis. In some cases it started small — for example, a thumb that suddenly wouldn’t move. Some children went on to lose the ability to eat or breathe.

The CDC on Tuesday released a study of cases from 2018 that found that the median age of the affected children was 5 years old. Nearly a quarter needed to be put on breathing machines.

Many families say their children have regained at least some movement in affected limbs, but stories of complete recovery are unusual.

It’s been difficult to come up with definitive proof, but experts believe the main culprit is an enterovirus called EV-D68. Enteroviruses are a large family of viruses. Some, such as polio, can damage the central nervous system, while many others cause mild symptoms or none at all. Another enterovirus, called EV-A71, has also been linked to some cases.

Doctors think extremely rare cases of AFM have popped up since at least 2008. But it became national concern in 2014, when a wave of EV-D68 infections was followed by a burst of at least 120 AFM cases.

What followed was an even-year, odd-year pattern: U.S. cases dropped to 22 in 2015, then jumped to 153 in 2016. They fell again in 2017 and hit 238 in 2018. There were 46 cases last year.

This year, as of the end of June, 16 cases have been reported, at least one of them fatal. Typically, most cases happen in August through November.

___

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central zone down to 16 active COVID-19 cases

Alberta Health Services’ central zone is down to 16

RCMP remind Albertans to practice rail safety

In 2019, Alberta had the second highest number of total railway crossing incidents

Central zone down to 19 active COVID-19 cases on Thursday

Provincially, 158 new COVID-19 cases were identified

Rimbey Municipal Library extends concert series

Curbside Concerts will now go until the middle of August in Rimbey

Wolf Creek Public Schools receive $2.5 M for COVID costs

Funds will largely go towards PPE and additional cleaning, sanitizing

Alberta’s top health official says province is not in a second wave of COVID-19

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that Alberta had identified 158 new cases in the province

8 charged, $260K in drugs and cash seized in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Millet Agriplex to become a hub for indoor soccer

Wetaskiwin Soccer Club will be operating out of the Millet Agriplex this season.

‘We’re losing what makes the Parkland so distinctive,” conservation specialist says

The Lacombe district will lose two sites with provincial park status: JJ Collett and the Narrows

Sylvan Lake woman says Town’s response time to concerns isn’t enough

Glenda Jackman says it took almost a month for the Town to act on her complaint about a playground

Ermineskin Kindergarten has a confirmed case of COVID-19

The school has shut down and Cohort 2 is in self-isolation

Hundreds die from opioid overdoses in Alberta as COVID-19 pandemic hit

Jason Luan said the province is not alone in seeing a rise in deaths,

Wetaskiwin/ Camrose RCMP conduct a joint forces initiative with Camrose Police Service

The multifaceted joint forces initiative with on Sept. 23, 2020 proved very successful.

Most Read