Parents: A Polio-Like Disease Is Paralyzing Kids & It's Spreading

Julia Payne

Cases of a childhood illness similar to polio have been making headlines in Chicago, as well as Pittsburgh, and cities in Minnesota and Colorado. All of the children affected by these cases are under the age of 10. The rare disease, acute flaccid myelitis, can reportedly start out as a cold but can eventually cause paralysis.

  • In Chicago, 2-year-old Julia Payne was diagnosed with AFM and has been in the hospital since September 5. 

    Her mother told the local Fox 32 that she first noticed her daughter's paralysis when they were at the hospital. They had headed there in early September as Julia had been feeling weak. "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 2," Katy Payne said. "She hasn’t done that since she was a baby."

    Julia's dad, Josh Payne, told Chicago's ABC7, "It's really just a common cold virus, and it attacked Julia's body and spinal cord a certain way, and it seems to be happening to other kids, too."

    While treatment has been going well, and Julia is moving to a new hospital today for inpatient care, doctors say it could take months or even years for her to regain strength in all of her extremities.

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  • In the meantime, six cases of AFM have been reported in Minnesota since mid-September.

    The state’s Department of Health reported the cases on its website and noted that the recent Minnesota cases have been in children under 10 years old and all were hospitalized. Cases have been reported from the Twin Cities, central Minnesota, and northeastern Minnesota.

    Meanwhile, 14 cases cropped up in Colorado, although Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Shannon Barbare said in a statement released on October 9 that "nearly all" of the children there have "fully recovered" from initial symptoms.

    ABC News in Chicago reports that there overall, there are at least 38 confirmed cases in 16 states.

  • According to the Minnesota state Department of Health, there was an uptick of AFM cases nationwide in 2014.

    The department notes, "Disease investigators believe this was linked to an outbreak of a respiratory illness in children that was caused by a virus known as enterovirus D 68 (EVD68). Minnesota saw three AFM cases that year. Since then, we have typically seen less than one case a year."

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 362 total cases from August 2014 to August 2018 with a major rise in cases reported in 2016 across 39 states. 

  • The CDC notes that sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes affect most people diagnosed with AFM.

    Other AFM symptoms may include facial droop/weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty with swallowing, or slurred speech. Numbness or tingling is rare in people with AFM, although some people have pain in their arms or legs. Some people with AFM may be unable to urinate.

    AFM could be triggered by a variety of factors, including common cold viruses, poliovirus (for which children should be vaccinated), and West Nile virus (which is carried by mosquitoes and can be prevented by using insect repellent). 

    Though the CDC says it's not necessarily proven to guard against AFM, it recommends frequent hand-washing with soap and water.

    With hope, further investigation will address this unnerving uptick in AFM cases, preventing even more little ones from suffering around the country.