Parents warned of serious but rare paralyzing condition in children

Parents warned of serious but rare paralyzing condition in children

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and other North American paediatric centres have seen a spike of young patients with polio-like muscle weakness following a viral illness.

A child’s risk of being diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis, better known as AFM, is only estimated at one in a million, but health officials caution parents to be vigilant in watching for the symptoms. It’s a kind of the acute flaccid paralysis and the weakness comes from inflammation of the spinal cord which sends messages to and from the brain.

Hospital for Sick Children in downtown Toronto.
Hospital for Sick Children in downtown Toronto.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

The long-term effects of AFM are unknown, but some patients will continue to experience muscle weakness and require ongoing care, Health Canada warned. Doctors aren’t sure of its causes and there is no vaccine available.

According to Sickkids, AFM affects patients under the age of 15 and symptoms include paralysis or weakness of a leg or arm, usually on one side of the body, which typically happens after a viral illness.

“In 2014, there was a somewhat similar cluster of 25 patients across Canada, who presented with AFM symptoms in the fall,” the hospital said in a news release, adding that this year’s cases, however, don’t appear to be closely linked to the same enterovirus, D68.

Health Canada said since Jan. 1, there have been a total of 33 cases reported in Canada, including 18 confirmed cases and 15 that are still being investigated. Media reports suggested three of those cases were reported at the London Health Sciences Centre’s Children’s Hospital in Ontario in September.

South of the border, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said authorities have received 62 confirmed cases in 22 states so far this year while 93 other cases are still under investigation. In 2017, the U.S. only had 33 confirmed cases.

The Canadian Paediatric Society said parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child has sudden weakness in the arms, legs or face, particularly following cold or flu-like symptoms of an upper respiratory infection or other viral illness.

It recommends parents ensure their children are up to date on all vaccinations, wash their hands frequently and stay at home if they show signs of illness.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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