Polio-like illness: How local hospitals are preparing and what you can do

Parents worried about polio-like illness

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A rare polio-like illness called Acute Flaccid Myelitis has a lot of parents on edge, if not flat out scared. We’ve had cases here in Virginia- and at least one child in our area has died from Acute Flaccid Myelitis.

We went to the local doctors to try to learn what to watch for- and also what they’re doing, to prepare to treat your kids.

We have covered the stories of real kids who have gotten Accue Flaccid Myelitis- a rare polio-like illness. Children suddenly sickened- families caught fighting for medical help, begging for answers. Families, like the Hoffs:

“They said if we would have waited longer, it would have been worse,” said Brittany Hoff, whose 4-year-old [son] Camden is on a ventilator states away as his family prays for answers.

Carter Roberts' family was forced to say good-bye to a previously healthy 5-year-old boy.

“It was really hard, to watch your healthy, vibrant toddler lose all of his physical ability, especially in a little boy with so much energy,” said his mother, Robin Roberts.

A nationwide medical community is still very much without answers about what is behind this awful illness.

“It’s scary," said Roberts. “But there are communities of people out there, doctors dedicated to this, really trying to figure out this puzzle that is AFM."

If you’re alarmed, that’s appropriate. Though cases are still rare, the CDC is reporting it’s difficult to interpret trends in the data. It’s not clear what’s caused the cases, why some people might be at higher risk or what could happen long term. They’re working on that information.

“We’re looking at anything that might be causing the AFM because our earlier investigations haven’t revealed the cause,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, with the Center for Disease Control in an interview with our sister station, WSLS.

Doctors at local hospitals say they are prepared to treat area kids and diagnose local cases.

“The way we train, we prepare for the worst. So definitely, whenever these unexpected things our radar is always sensitive to things like that.”said Dr. Philip Valmores, DO with Bon Secours.

A spokesperson with VCU says they have treated kids with AFM locally and they also have plans in place for helping your child, if need be.

Here’s a quick Q&A including some of what we asked Dr. Lawrence Morton, Division Chair, Child Neurology Division Chief, Clinical Neurophysiology.

Can you elaborate on how many cases you’ve treated (if not specifically, roughly) and over what time period?

I have personally been involved in two cases of AFM since 2016. My colleagues in child neurology have also seen several cases over the past few years here in Richmond and surrounding states. If I recall, I saw two cases during the outbreak in 2016. The presentation was quite typical. The children were at the tail end of viral illness with fever. One had weakness in one limb and some other mild effects – while the other had asymmetric involvement but ultimately of all limbs and facial weakness.

What is the range of symptoms you’ve seen locally? Were the children all from RVA or the larger Commonwealth?

Fever, weakness in limbs and facial weakness. The cases I saw in 2016 were from Greater Richmond, but my child neurology colleagues at CHoR have seen cases from across Virginia and surrounding states.

In what ways has your staff prepared/trained to respond to cases? Is the hospital taking any extra steps?

Our team of board-certified neurologists is one of the largest and most experienced across the east coast. We are poised to assess, diagnose and manage AFM and other complex neuromuscular conditions.

What can parents do/watch for?

During or shortly after a febrile illness – look for decreased use of the limb, which should be very noticeable if it’s a leg, but sometimes difficult to pick up early in the non-dominant arm. Excessive drooling can be an early sign of facial weakness. For most cases, while a virus is suspected a clear etiology has not been determined though the most common virus associated has been EV-D 68. But diphtheria in the past has also been associated with creating this condition reemphasizing the need for routine vaccinations including polio. You may already are familiar that this non-polio acute flaccid myelitis has had these exacerbations every two years starting in 2014 with the peak months being August, September and October – so we are to the probable tail end.

Dr. Valmores gave us similar tips on what to watch for: “The arm weakness or the leg weakness, other things you might see are facial symptoms like eye drooping or difficulty swallowing. Those are all alarm signs that you should definitely let your doctor know about.

Dr. Valmores also says there are small things you can do that may protect your child from the frightening illness.

”We don’t know where this is coming from," said Valmores. "There have been some studies to show this is related to viral infections. So, some of the things you can do to protect yourself from viruses, um handwashing, good hand hygiene is important and then also getting your vaccines.”

Meanwhile, the CDC says that information about the illness is being shared, while research continues. They’re answers most parents anxiously await.

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