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Mysterious polio-like illness baffles medical experts while frightening parents


 

It’s not clear who is at risk

Although the disease appears to target a certain age group, federal disease experts do not know who is likely to get acute flaccid myelitis.

Dr. Pardo-Villamizar said identifying vulnerable populations is “a work in progress.”

Mary Anne Jackson, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and interim dean of the school of medicine at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, said many of the patients she saw were healthy children before falling ill with the disease. She suspects that a host of factors play a role in the likelihood of getting AFM, but more cases must be reviewed in order to find an answer.

The long-term effects are unknown

The CDC said it doesn’t know how long symptoms of the disease will last for patients. However, experts say that initial indications from a small number of cases suggest a grim outlook.

A study published last year found six of eight children in Colorado with acute flaccid myelitis still struggled with motor skills 1 year after their diagnosis. Nonetheless, the researchers found that the patients and families “demonstrated a high degree of resilience and recovery.”

“The majority of these patients are left with extensive problems,” said Dr. Pardo-Villamizar, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Jackson, who also saw persistent muscle weakness in her patients, said she believes the CDC may be hesitant to specify the long-term effects of the disease because existing studies have included only small numbers of patients. More studies that include a larger proportion of confirmed cases are needed to better understand long-term outcomes, she said.

KHN’s coverage of children’s health care issues is supported in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation. Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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