By Audrey Washington
ATLANTA – A Georgia mother said her toddler went to bed sick and woke up paralyzed from the neck down.
It’s the latest in a series of mysterious illnesses that are baffling doctors. Two young patients were recently treated at Scottish Rite after they fell ill and then woke up partially paralyzed.
Doctors are still working to figure out what causes acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, but they tell Channel 2 Action News the rare condition is similar to polio, in that it can cause muscle weakness or partial paralysis.
And like polio, doctors believe AFM is caused by a virus, but they don’t know which virus.
That was the case for a 2-year-old Abigail. Her mother said one moment she was a healthy child who came down with a double ear infection and fever. Then a few days later, she woke up paralyzed from the neck down.
Doctors diagnosed Abigail with AFM. She’s now in rehab making great progress.
“It’s a rare occurrence its one in a million, in a million,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director.
Across the country, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 62 confirmed cases of AFM in 22 states, and 93 possible cases.
“It’s really heartbreaking. No parent should ever have to experience that and what makes it worse, it’s not the tubes, it’s not the treatments, what makes is worse is not knowing what caused it,” said Abigail’s mother, Erica Palacios.
There were 5 cases reported in Georgia in 2016.
Doctors said the West Nile Virus may be the cause in some of the cases.
“It’s a very frustrating situation we do not know definitively what it is, although there is a suspicion, a strong suspicion that it is associated with a particular type of virus that we recognize,” Fauci said.
What CDC Doesn’t Know
- Among the people who were diagnosed with AFM since August 2014:
- The cause of most of the AFM cases remains unknown.
- We don’t know what caused the increase in AFM cases starting in 2014.
- We have not yet determined who is at higher risk for developing AFM, or the reasons why they may be at higher risk.
- We do not yet know the long-term effects of AFM. We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care.
What CDC Is Doing
CDC is actively investigating AFM cases and monitoring disease activity. We are working closely with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to increase awareness for AFM. We are encouraging healthcare providers to recognize and report suspected cases of AFM to their health departments, and for health departments to send this information to CDC to help us understand the nationwide burden of AFM. CDC is also actively looking for risk factors and possible causes of this condition.
CDC activities include:
- Urging healthcare providers to be vigilant for AFM among their patients, and to send information about suspected cases to their health departments
- Verifying clinical information of suspected AFM cases submitted by health departments, and working with health departments and neurologists to classify cases using a case definition adopted by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE)
- Testing specimens, including stool, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid, from suspected AFM cases
- Working with healthcare providers, experts, and state and local health departments to investigate and better understand the AFM cases, including potential causes and how often the condition occurs
- Providing new and updated information to healthcare providers, health departments, policymakers, the public, and partners in various formats, such as scientific journals and meetings, and CDC’s AFM website and social media
- Using multiple research methods to further explore the potential association of AFM with possible causes as well as risk factors for AFM. This includes collaborating with experts to review MRI scans of people from the past 10 years to determine how many AFM cases occurred before 2014, updating treatment and management protocols, and engaging with several academic centers to conduct active surveillance simultaneously for both AFM and respiratory viruses.