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CDC tells parents, docs to watch for rare, neurologic condition in children this fall

Lisa Gutierrez, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Health & Fitness

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One morning at breakfast six years ago, as Dawn Sticklen's healthy 13-year-old son tried to eat a bowl of cereal, his arms started shaking and got so weak he couldn't feed himself.

"We thought maybe it was because he had been sick for a few days and maybe he was just kinda weak from not eating properly," said Sticklen, who lives in Joplin.

"But he just kept saying it was getting harder and harder to move his arms. So we knew something was wrong. We got him in to see the doctors and they all were like, 'this doesn't look right.' "

Joplin doctors sent the family to Children's Mercy in Kansas City, where Billy Sticklen was quickly diagnosed with a rare neurologic condition called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

It left him temporarily paralyzed, unable to move anything but his hands and feet, like he had polio.

Billy's case is just one of several hundred recorded in the United States since 2014. Since then, AFM has peaked every two years, with cases typically popping up from August to November.

 

On Aug. 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted doctors and parents that AFM is expected to peak again this year -- one more thing to watch out for other than COVID-19 this fall.

A big clue that a child might have AFM: Their limbs, some or all of them, go weak suddenly, like what happened to Billy.

"This is an incredibly rare disease," said Dr. Jennifer Schuster, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Children's Mercy, one of seven sites in the United States helping the CDC research the condition.

"What the CDC is very wisely doing ... is recognizing that we have seen clusters in 2014, 2016, 2018, even-numbered years. And here we are in 2020, and we are very distracted by another infectious disease that is circulating.

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