Rare Polio-Like Virus Is Hitting Kids Across the Country: What Parents Need to Know

acute flaccid myelits
Photo: Fox 32 Chicago

Cases of a cold-like virus that can cause scary polio-like symptoms are on the rise across the country, making headlines as well as making parents nervous. The virus is called accute flaccid myelitis, and the Centers for Disease Control says there have been 38 cases reported this year, with a frighteningly high amount of those—twenty—in Colorado. Six cases have also been reported in Minnesota, including seven-year-old Quinton Hill from Lakeville, who is now home from the hospital and in therapy for weakened muscles. You can see Quinton’s story and hear from his parents below:

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One Chicago toddler, Julia Payne, aged 2, has also been hospitalized for acute flaccid myelitis since September 5th, according to Fox 32 Chicago. Her mom, Katy Payne, told the news station that “She became paralyzed when we were in the hospital so I noticed it when they sat her up to do an x-ray and her head, she couldn’t keep it up and she’s two. She hasn’t done that since she was a baby.”

Doctors say that although they expect little Julia to make a full recovery, she will need months or years therapy to regain all the strength she’s lost to the virus, which causes muscle weakness.

I do want to stress that this illness is RARE, and parents don’t need to panic, but the CDC does say it is “concerned” about the spike in cases. Like most contagious diseases, doctors say the best defense against it is proper hand-washing. Here are some other facts the CDC listed about the virus.

CDC facts about acute flaccid myelits:

  • Most patients are children
  • The patients’ symptoms have been most similar to complications of infection with certain viruses, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile virus.
  • Enteroviruses most commonly cause mild illness. They can also cause neurologic illness, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and AFM, but these are rare.
  • CDC has tested many different specimens from AFM patients for a wide range of pathogens (germs) that can cause AFM. To date, no pathogen (germ) has been consistently detected in the patients’ spinal fluid; a pathogen detected in the spinal fluid would be good evidence to indicate the cause of AFM since this condition affects the spinal cord.

Bottom line: There’s no need to panic about AFM, but taking all the usual precautions that you do (and encourage your kids to do) during cold and flu season is the best way to avoid it. Cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick, and wash those hands like it’s your job! Have kids wash hands when they get home from school, too.

Be informed and be smart this cold and flu season, parents!


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Jenny Rapson
Jenny Rapson is a follower of Christ, a wife and mom of three from Ohio and a freelance writer and editor. You can find her at her blog, Mommin' It Up, or follow her on Twitter.