"It's Like Polio, Except It's Not": Doctor Is Warning Parents To Watch Out For The First Signs Of A Very Rare, Polio-Like Disease

Lifestyle & Health

October 18, 2018 13:54 By Fabiosa

A rare, polio-like disease is spreading across the country. In Minnesota, the disease left six children partially paralyzed, and doctors and health officials are at a loss.

Another case has been reported in Texas, and the girl’s pediatrician wrote about it in detail. And she did it not to scare parents, but to give them hope.

READ ALSO: Mysterious Disease In Minnesota Leads 6 Children To Hospitalization While Doctors Have No Idea How To Cure Them Yet

Elizabeth’s story

When Dr. Diane Arnaout saw Elizabeth at her office, the girl looked sick. She had a fever and felt generally unwell. It seemed like Elizabeth had a common viral infection, so her doctor and parents were not too worried at first.

Three days later, the girl’s parents rushed her to the doctor’s office. Elizabeth was in pain and her neck was stiff. Dr. Arnaout suspected it could be meningitis, and her little patient was immediately taken to the ER.

Dr. Arnaout wrote:

While in the ER, they noticed she couldn't stand without severe dizziness. And that her right arm wasn't working very well. Her face was drooping on one side.

Elizabeth had a brain MRI and spinal tap, and the tests revealed something that doctors had never expected to see. Elizabeth had acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

Dr. Arnaout was dumbstruck. The disease is so rare she had only read about it in medical journals. The prognosis for each case of AFM is uncertain, and doctors don’t know how to treat it as they still don’t know what causes it.

Elizabeth was taken to the PICU for close observation. Her family and doctors watched her, holding their breath. They had no idea what course the disease would take.

Much to everyone’s relief, the girl started to improve. Dr. Arnaout wrote:

She started sitting up. Watching TV. Talking more. The arm and face weakness persisted, but she was able to move around more. Her neck was still very painful... but it was more tolerable.

She was transferred to the rehabilitation unit at Cook Children's and for the next month worked with the pain management doctors, physical therapists, speech therapists, and occupational therapists who all wanted to help her regain her old abilities.

Although Elizabeth’s prognosis remains uncertain, her doctors and parents are hopeful. Dr. Arnaout wrote:

To this day, Elizabeth has not made a full recovery. She cannot lift her right arm up past her shoulder. Her family and therapists are still working on her arm strength, her neck strength and movement, and her torso strength. But her speech is almost back to normal. And she can walk and run and play easily. And her smile is back. And that makes me smile.

READ ALSO: 2-Year-Old Started Stumbling After He Fell Off A Bed And Ended Up Getting Diagnosed With A Very Rare Disorder

What is acute flaccid myelitis?

Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare but very serious condition that affects the nervous system and leads to muscle weakness. In some cases, muscle weakness caused by AFM may be permanent.

Fewer than one in a million people in the United States will get AFM every year, the CDC estimates. Most of these people are children.

Oksana Kuzmina / Shutterstock.com

It’s not exactly clear what causes AFM, but viruses, environmental toxins, or genetic disorders are thought to be at play.

According to the CDC, symptoms of AFM tend to develop suddenly and may include the following:

  • weakness in the arms and legs;
  • weakness in the facial muscles;
  • difficulty swallowing, slurred speech.

Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

If you or your child has such symptoms and/or neck stiffness, seek medical care immediately. These symptoms are very unlikely to be caused by AFM, but other things that may cause them are just as serious.

READ ALSO: Constant Neck Pain Could Be An Early Warning Sign Of A Serious Illness

This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.