A young Galveston girl is one of the most recent victims of a rare, paralyzing neurological condition being reported in increasing numbers across the United States since 2014.
The unnamed girl, who is between 1 and 5 years old and is in recovery, began experiencing muscle weakness, vomiting and fever commonly associated with acute flaccid myelitis this summer, said Ashley Thompkins, director of communications for the Galveston County Health District.
Her doctor reported the symptoms to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July, which then confirmed the case as acute flaccid myelitis on Aug. 27 with the Galveston County Health District.
“The girl is currently undergoing rehabilitation,” Thompkins said. “It’s a rare condition, but nationwide there have been some reported cases over the last four to five years.”
Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare but serious condition, according to the CDC. It affects the nervous system, specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter, and the muscles and reflexes in the body become weak, according to the CDC.
“The condition isn’t new, but the increase in cases we saw starting in 2014 is new,” according to the CDC.
This was the first Galveston County case reported to the health district since 2014, Thompkins said, noting the state doesn’t require reporting of acute flaccid myelitis.
There have been eight reported cases in Texas in 2018, including one in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Five cases were reported in 2017; 19 in 2016; and none in 2015, the data shows. All of the cases except for one were reported in children.
Despite news reports likening acute flaccid myelitis to polio, the cases currently being reported in the United States almost certainly don’t have anything to do with that virus, said Susan McLellan, medical director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Biocontainment Treatment Unit.
“The condition can be due to a number of different viruses,” she said. “These cases haven’t been linked to any specific virus yet.”
The condition is a complication of an infection, but describing it as “polio-like” is inaccurate, Lara Anton, press officer for the Department of State Health Services, wrote in an email to The Daily News.
“I’ve seen it called ‘polio-like’ in other news reports and I don’t think we’d qualify it that way, even though they do share a common symptom of limb weakness,” Anton wrote. “There are no specific precautions that can be taken to prevent getting AFM because the cause has not been identified.”
Even though the cause of the condition hasn’t been identified and there is no vaccine, the CDC recommends that people practice good hygiene and wash their hands to avoid catching the kind of germs that can lead to the condition. Nonpolio enteroviruses, the same kind of viruses that cause the common cold, can also cause acute flaccid myelitis, the CDC states on its website.
The CDC is investigating the condition and is encouraging healthcare providers to recognize and report suspected cases of acute flaccid myelitis to their health departments, and for health departments to send this information to the centers, according to the agency’s website.