Mysterious Polio-Like Disease Striking Fear Across the U.S.
By Kurtis Bright
Among the phrases you don’t want to hear are: “Your child has been stricken by a rare, polio-like disease. He can’t breathe on his own, so we’re going to put him on a ventilator. He has the use of one toe, and he can blink his left eye, but that’s about all.
“And we’re not sure what we can do about it.”
Hundreds of parents across the U.S. are coming to grips with just such a diagnosis right now. A terrifying emerging disease is striking fear into parents across the country, that results in symptoms like those described above and worse.
Called acute flaccid myelitis, the strange disease affected about 120 U.S. children in 2014 alone, many of whom have not recovered to this day. That may not sound like a lot of kids in a nation of 300 million, but consider the pain and frustration and helplessness of the families involved for a moment.
And then consider this fact: thus far in 2016 twice as many cases have been reported than there were at the same point in 2015--and researchers still have no idea what causes it. Neither can they say why affected children are subject to such tremendous weakness in their limbs during the disease.
What researchers do know is that AFM can be triggered by several things: enteroviruses (polio and non-polio), West Nile virus, and adenoviruses all have been shown to be associated with contracting the disease.
What they can’t tell parents and their near-paralyzed children is what to do about it, either to prevent or treat it. No treatment protocol exists for AFM; doctors are forced to work with each patient on a case-by-case basis in an attempt to recover the use of the patients’ limbs in physical therapy programs.
What we do know is that the disease affects the nervous system, in particular the spinal cord, and that it early symptoms often can resemble a cold. However, despite such an inauspicious genesis, AFM rapidly escalates, leaving the child paralyzed in a matter of days.
Just between January and August alone, over 50 people living in 24 states have come down with the disease; last year at this time there had only been 21 victims.
It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of the parents of these afflicted children.
For example, six-year-old Mackenzie Andersen contracted AFM in 2014 and still suffers from symptoms to this day.
“Within 12 days she was paralyzed from the neck down, on a ventilator to breathe for her. She was left with her left hand and her feet and toes that move,” her mother said in Washington Post interview. “How do you wrap your brain around the fact that she got a cold, and now she’s a quadriplegic on a ventilator?”
To put it simply, you don’t. We don’t know yet if the cases that emerged over the rest of the year continued the upward trend over previous years as the numbers haven’t been compiled yet.
But parents should take a moment to be aware of the possibility that even a simple childhood cold could lead to something much more serious.