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Health leaders on the lookout for rare condition caused by a virus in children

Experts say AFM is a very rare condition and the medical community is already on alert, so parents don't need to panic. Here's what you should know.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The CDC is asking pediatricians to be on the lookout this fall for a respiratory illness that, in rare cases, can lead to paralysis in children.

Dr. Harlori Bains, a pediatric neurologist with Spectrum Health, says parents should not panic and the medical community is already on alert.

Enterovirus is a common respiratory virus that, in most cases, looks a lot like the common cold. Diarrhea or vomiting might also be symptoms. But it's what happens after this virus that has doctors concerned.

"For some reason, this virus can, after the acute symptoms have resolved, a week later this can trigger a neurological autoimmune response and lead to paralysis," explained Dr. Bains.

That condition is called AFM.

"Acute Flaccid Myelitis is sudden onset weakness in one or more limbs. It is considered an emergency," Dr. Bains said. "If your child has unusual weakness or paralysis in a limb, bring them to the ER for evaluation. Often neurology offers input. However as frightening as it is, watching for it this year and we are expecting a spike in these cases, it is still very, very uncommon."

Dr. Bains explained that they tend to see a spike in the d68 and A71 enterovirus strains in even number years...but why? It's something doctors are still working to understand. 

"As far as understanding why certain individuals tend to impact certain individuals that is also something we don't understand fully," said Dr. Bains.

Dr. Bains says children ages 3-6 are most often the ones impacted. Here's what she wants parents to know: "You have a medical community behind you who is on the lookout for this."

She says if your child has cold symptoms that don’t resolve, call their doctor. If they are experiencing unusual weakness, head to the ER.

For some perspective, according to the CDC there were 238 confirmed cases in children across the U.S. in 2018. So again, this is very rare. 2020 was an anomaly due to coronavirus. There were only about 100 cases.


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