Parents should be on alert for symptoms of COVID-19 in their kids—but also those of acute flaccid myelitis, a rare, life-threatening neurological disease leading to paralysis in young children. Cases of the polio-like condition seem to spike every other year, and the largest recorded US outbreak came in 2018, with 238 cases in 42 states between August and November. The average age was 5. Some 98% of patients were hospitalized, 54% were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 23% required a ventilator, reports CNN. While most were hospitalized quickly, 10% arrived at a hospital more than four days after symptoms appeared, per Good Morning America. That's concerning because paralysis can strike within hours or days. AFM "requires immediate recognition and care," says CDC director Robert Redfield.
Symptoms include sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty walking, and neck, back, and limb pain. In most cases, a child will develop a fever or respiratory illness in the days before symptoms set in. While a spike in cases is expected from late summer to early winter, measures to protect against COVID-19—physical distancing, mask wearing, and better hand hygiene—may prove beneficial. These practices also prevent the spread of enteroviruses, including EV-D68 and EV-A71, which are believed to trigger AFM. "If social distancing measures decrease circulation of enteroviruses this year, AFM cases may be fewer than expected or the outbreak may be delayed," Redfield says, per CNN. Still, he urges hospital care as soon as symptoms appear, regardless of concerns about COVID-19 exposure. (Read more acute flaccid myelitis stories.)