Local physician explains symptoms of polio-like disease, what you can do to prevent it

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SAN ANTONIO – It’s a parent’s worst nightmare — having a sick child with a rare and serious condition. The Centers for Disease Control is now getting more serious about tracking down the cause and treatment for a polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis.

The CDC is setting up a task force to investigate the illness that’s gotten more than 116 people in 31 states sick this year so far, the majority of which are children. Colorado has the highest number of cases, followed by Texas.

Dr. Jon Crews, who treats pediatric infectious diseases at The Children’s Hospital, said acute flaccid myelitis is a condition that involves the spinal cord and brings an onset of weakness to the arms or legs because of inflammation in the spinal cord.

“We're still learning more about how often it happens, but so far, it seems like one to two children per million,” Crews said.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services reported 17 confirmed and possible acute flaccid myelitis cases this year. Bexar County didn’t have any cases, but, Crews said, there have been a couple of cases treated at The Children’s Hospital in the last couple of years.

“Some kids with AFM have a complete recovery. Others may have some residual weakness to the arm or leg,” Crews said.

Since there’s no known cause for the disease, there’s no standard treatment for it, Crews said.

Certain viruses are known to cause the disease, including enteroviruses such as poliovirus, EV-A71 and West Nile virus.

Crews urges parents to keep in mind the rarity of the condition. He said parents should do what they usually do to keep their children healthy, such as washing their children’s hands regularly and keeping them up to date on their vaccines.

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