This year, state health departments have reported at least 155 potential cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a polio-like affliction that has left several children paralyzed, to the CDC. Though the CDC was able to confirm 62 of those cases, the center has yet to officially say what they believe has caused the three-year spike in AFM. While the CDC debates the cause, doctors who have been treating children with AFM believe that enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, is the culprit.
Though the CDC has found some correlation between AFM and EV-D68, they are hesitant to call the virus the main cause of the spike. This is because they haven’t found EV-D68 in every confirmed case of AFM. Still, doctors are suggesting that EV-D68 has simply evolved over the last three years, which would explain why the CDC isn’t catching it and why the virus is attacking children’s spines more frequently. Moreover, doctors have traced an increase in EV-D68 when it comes to outbreaks of AFM. The doctors who believe in the link between EV-D68 and AFM already aren’t totally clear on why the CDC hasn’t spoken up on the matter.
“Continuing to frame this as a mystery after so many years doesn’t do the public health any justice,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.
Tests on EV-D68 have also concluded that the virus is, in fact, capable of attacking nerve tissue in the spine. What many doctors are almost certain of at this point is that the spike in AFM is viral whether the CDC wants to say it’s EV-D68 or not.
“I think we are seeing the emergence of a new polio-like paralytic disease. Its pattern and most of the evidence that we have suggests that it is likely a virally caused disease,” Dr. Ken Tyler, a neurologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told NBC News.
Still, officials are certain that actually catching a case of AFM is really hard to do. Regardless, they say that the best method for preventing the most devastating effects of the disease is to get tested early and start treatment early. While there is no vaccine for AFM, there is a bevy of effective treatments, some of which can even walk back the paralysis. If your child suddenly begins to feel as if their limbs are weaker or begin to have trouble using their extremities, it’s better to get them tested for AFM early than it is to wait.