Wed | Sep 30, 2020

COVID-19 measures could disrupt rare polio-like disease

Published:Tuesday | August 4, 2020 | 5:14 PM
In this June 26, 2020 file photo, a man and his son are silhouetted against the sky as they watch the sunset from a park in Kansas City, Missouri. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Health experts once thought 2020 might be the worst year yet for a rare paralysing disease that has been hitting US children for the past decade.

But they now say the coronavirus pandemic could disrupt the pattern for the mysterious illnesses, which spike every other year starting in late summer.

Scientists say it’s possible that mask wearing, school closures and others measures designed to stop spread of the coronavirus may also hamper spread of the virus suspected of causing the paralysing disease.

Dr David Kimberlin, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, called it “the million-dollar question.”

“We just simply don’t know right now,” said Kimberlin, who is co-leader of a national study to gather specimens from children who develop the paralysing condition.

The pandemic is dominating public health work right now, but officials are trying to draw attention to the polio-like condition they call acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday made a public call for parents and doctors to watch for it, and act.

“We are concerned that in the midst of a COVID pandemic, that (AFM) cases might not be recognised. Or we’re concerned that parents might be worried about taking their child to the doctors with something as serious as limb weakness,” said Dr Thomas Clark, a CDC official overseeing AFM surveillance.

That was a problem before COVID-19.

In 2018, 10% of patients were not hospitalised until four or more days after limb weakness started, the CDC reported.

Hundreds of US children have developed AFM since 2014. Most had a cold-like illness and fever, seemed to get over it, then descended into paralysis. In some cases it started small — for example, a thumb that suddenly wouldn’t move. Some children went on to lose the ability to eat or breathe.

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