While the nation focuses on the coronavirus pandemic as schools make decisions about reopening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning parents about another serious virus that can be detected by fever and respiratory discomfort.
The CDC is anticipating a possible outbreak of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), an uncommon but serious neurologic condition that affects mostly children. The disease has peaked every two years between August and November in the United States since 2014, the CDC said.
CDC alerted health care providers to a possible outbreak this year.
AFM can cause permanent paralysis and life-threatening complications of respiratory failure in previously healthy patients. The CDC advised any child reporting limb weakness, especially during August through November, seek medical treatment immediately.
Recent respiratory illness or fever and the presence of neck or back pain or any neurologic symptom could also be signs of the virus.
The CDC said in 2018 about 35% of patients were not hospitalized until two or more days after limb weakness.
Early detection of symptoms helps medical professionals set patients up for better outcomes, the CDC said.
“Recognition and early diagnosis are critical,” Robert Redfield, M.D., CDC Director, said. “CDC and public health partners have strengthened early disease detection systems, a vital step toward rapid treatment and rehabilitation for children with AFM.”
It is not known how the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures may affect the circulation of viruses that can cause AFM, or if COVID-19 will impact the health care system’s ability to promptly recognize and respond to AFM, the CDC said.
It is possible that social distancing measures could decrease circulation of enteroviruses leading to fewer than expected cases of AFM this year, the CDC said.
In 2018, the third and largest peak of AFM occurred with 238 cases in 42 states. Of the cases, 98% were hospitalized and 54% were admitted to an intensive care unit. About 25% required a ventilator.
Most patients had a fever and/or respiratory illness approximately six days before limb weakness onset. Other common early symptoms were difficulty walking, neck or back pain, fever, and limb pain.