Specialist urges parents not to panic over ‘modern polio’ cases
An infectious disease specialist on Thursday cautioned parents against panicking over the “polio-like” acute flaccid myelitis that has landed two Allegheny County children in the hospital in recent weeks.
“This is a very rare disease,” said Dr. John Williams, chief of the Pediatric Infectious Disease division at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “It’s very scary, and it’s a serious illness for the children and families affected, but parents and family should remember that it’s very rare.”
Two children from Allegheny County and one from Washington County remain in Children’s Hospital with the “modern polio” disease, for which the main symptom is weakness of one or more limbs.
One of the children from Allegheny County being treated is Bryson Ackermann , the young son of Pine-Richland High School basketball coach Jeffrey Ackermann.
A gofundme.com page has been set up to assist with Bryson’s medical treatment.
“Bryson has been diagnosed with AFM (a polio like disease). Right now, he is at Children’s hospital in ICU. Bryson has a long road of treatments, etc., ahead of him. We are trying to help the family out with the many medical expenses, travel cost, parking cost, food cost and time off work for both Jeff and Jill. Anything you can give will help!”
Williams said the disease, which can often be caused by common viruses, can include other more traditional symptoms.
“Anybody who has children knows that those symptoms occur with kids all the time, so if a child has a fever or runny nose or diarrhea, none of that should raise concern from AFM,” he said. “It should only be (a concern) if the child has weakness of the arms and legs.”
Common viruses — the kind that millions of children get every year — can cause the disease. In many other cases, Williams said, the cause of AFM is unknown.
“Only a tiny number get the AFM,” he said. “We don’t know why that is, but it’s certainly not the case that every child who gets the virus is going to get the AFM.”
The last major AFM outbreak — 120 cases across 34 states in 2014 — coincided with a sharp rise in severe respiratory illnesses caused by enterovirus D68.
This year, the CDC has observed 38 confirmed cases in 16 states, the federal agency said in an update last week.
Williams said the number has risen in recent years but tried to put the number — and the danger — in perspective.
“This year, tens of thousands of children in the United States will be hospitalized for influenza, and several hundred will die,” he said. “Most of those kids were previously health, and most of those kids were not vaccinated.”
He said precautions one would take during normal cold and flu season — like hand-washing and sneezing into arms instead of hands — will suffice, as the chances of viruses causing AFM are not high, plus in many cases, the root cause is unknown.
The disease is rarely deadly, but recovery varies by child.
“Most kids to experience some recovery and some kids have a full recovery,” Williams said. “But a lot of kids are left with residual weakness, which can be from mild weakness in one arm or leg, or in some cases it can be severe to where they’re unable to walk.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, email@example.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.