The Ohio Department of Health confirms one case this year of AFM, a rare, polio-like condition causing concern across the country. In Columbus, Nationwide Children’s Hospital reports several suspected cases.
An epidemic expert at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus said the institution has come across several suspected cases this year of a rare polio-like condition that primarily affects youths and has federal health officials concerned because of a recent spike across the country.
Ohio has one confirmed case of the disease, acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, Ohio Department of Health spokesman J.C. Benton said Wednesday.
Details about the Nationwide Children’s cases have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further investigation and possible confirmation, said Dr. Michael Brady, physician director of epidemiology at the hospital.
The CDC reported Tuesday that 62 cases of AFM have been confirmed in 22 states this year, with 58 of them in children. But the agency has yet to find a unifying cause. An additional 65 suspected cases are being investigated.
From August 2014 to September 2018, the CDC reported, there were 386 confirmed cases, with jumps occurring in even-numbered years.
AFM affects the nervous system, leading to weakness in arms or legs and, in severe cases, muscle paralysis. Federal officials stress that the condition remains rare, striking fewer than one in a million people in the U.S. each year.
“The key thing that parents should know is, first of all, this fortunately has been a rare condition,” Brady said. “Second of all, we don’t know what the cause is.”
The most likely culprits, he said, are one or more enteroviruses, which cause a number of illnesses. The best way to avoid them is to wash hands, use cough etiquette and stay away from others when sick.
In addition to Ohio’s lone 2018 AFM case, the state had two confirmed cases each in 2017 and 2016, Benton said. Numbers for 2015 and 2014 were unavailable.
Benton said he could not reveal where in the state the confirmed cases were diagnosed or the ages or conditions of those affected. At Franklin County Public Health, officials were unaware of any confirmed cases in the county over the years.
Across the U.S., one child with AFM died in 2017, said Nancy Messonnier, who oversees immunization and respiratory disease issues at the CDC, during a media briefing Tuesday.
“I am frustrated that, despite all of our efforts, we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness,” she said. “We continue to investigate to better understand the clinical picture of AFM cases, risk factors and possible causes of the increase in cases.”
Brady said the AFM cases usually start with a low-grade fever and some respiratory symptoms. But, alone, such symptoms can be caused by a number of viruses and shouldn’t be cause for concern.
Because most of the current cases affect the upper body, Brady said, parents should seek medical care if a child also develops weakness in the arms or hands or begins dropping things more than is usual.
He said most affected children will regain muscle strength with physical therapy.