COVID-19 measures could disrupt rare polio-like disease

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

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragic milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

(Black Press file photos)
City of Lacombe announces new public health measures

The city is adopting recommendations that were announced by the provincial government yesterday

The new bylaw will take effect on Nov. 30, 2020. Photo courtesy of the Town of Blackfalds.
Town of Blackfalds approves mandatory mask bylaw

The bylaw was approved after a council meeting on Nov. 24

(Black Press file photo)
Alberta mobile home tenants and landlords can now resolve issues faster

The provincial government is asking residents to complete a survey to identify any further concerns

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at B.C. campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

A pedestrian wears masks while out walking in front of the Alberta Legislature as the COVID-19 numbers spike in Edmonton on Tuesday November 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Doctor says Alberta restrictions not enough to reduceCOVID-19 strain on hospitals

Mithani notes people are still allowed to gather indoors at large places of worship and in bars,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval.

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer. (Photo submitted)
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Most Read