Only 1 Child in Paralysis Outbreak Has Recovered

By Robert Lowes
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Jan. 12, 2015 -- Just one child has fully recovered in 103 confirmed cases of children getting a sudden and mysterious type of acute limb weakness since last August, the CDC says.

The agency says it's investigating whether the limb weakness, called acute flaccid myelitis, is linked to the recent outbreak of severe respiratory illness traced to enterovirus-D68 (EV-D68).

The CDC and state public health labs have confirmed 1,153 cases of EV-D68, almost all of them involving children, and 13 deaths dating from the middle of last August to Jan. 8. Millions of Americans likely have had mild EV-D68 infections that went untreated or untested.

Although enteroviruses in the past have rarely triggered problems with the nervous system, they are related to the paralyzing polio virus.

In an article published in the Jan. 9 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC said a test of the cerebrospinal fluid (which bathes the brain) in 71 patients with limb weakness showed they didn't have EV-D68 or any other pathogen. But when the CDC tested upper respiratory tract samples in a group of patients, EV-D68 was found in some of them.

The median age of the 103 children with this type of paralysis is about 7 years. Almost all of them were hospitalized, with some put on breathing machines. About two-thirds of those who were observed after their illness said they felt some improvement in symptoms, and one-third had no improvement.

The CDC is urging doctors to be on the lookout for paralysis cases and to report them to their state or local health department.

Every year, children get limb-weakening neurologic illnesses caused by, among other things, viral infections, environmental toxins, genetic disorders, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, according to the CDC. In many cases, the cause is never identified.

More information is available on the CDC web site.

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SOURCE: CDC: "Notes from the Field: Acute Flaccid Myelitis Among Persons Aged 21 Years."

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