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Paralyzing Illness in Kids Seems to Strike in Weird Cycle

Cases of AFM seem to surge every other year
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 2, 2019 1:15 PM CDT
Rachel Scott, right, helps suction the mouth of her son, Braden, in Tomball, Texas, on March 29, 2019. He was 7 on July 4, 2016, when he uncharacteristically decided he didn’t want to go swimming. His...   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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(Newser) – One morning last fall, 4-year-old Joey Wilcox woke up with the left side of his face drooping. It was the first sign of an unfolding nightmare. Three days later, the Herndon, Virginia, boy was in a hospital intensive care unit, unable to move his arms or legs or sit up. Doctors worried he was about to lose the ability to breathe. Joey, who survived but still suffers some of the effects, was one of 228 confirmed victims in the US last year of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, a rare, mysterious and sometimes deadly paralyzing illness that seems to ebb and flow on an every-other-year cycle and is beginning to alarm public health officials because it is striking more and more children. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, published a report about the disease Tuesday in the journal mBio. Highlights from the AP:

  • Fauci said AFM may bear similarities to polio, which smoldered among humans for centuries before it exploded into fearsome epidemics in the 19th and 20th centuries. He said it is unlikely AFM will become as bad as polio, but he warned not to "assume that it's going to stay at a couple of hundred cases every other year."
  • While countries including Canada, France, and Norway have reported cases, the size and pattern of the US outbreaks have been more pronounced. More than 550 Americans have been struck this decade. The oldest was 32. More than 90% were children, most around 4, 5, or 6 years old.

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