Doctor: Rare illness in the news no cause for panic

The rare illness, acute flaccid myelitis, making news this week should not be a cause for panic among parents, says Dr. Tina Q. Tan, attending physician for the Division of Infectious Diseases of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

She says it is a very rare complication of a very common infection, affecting about 1 in a million people.

“This is not new. This is something that happens every single year” in multiple states, says Tan, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed 38 cases in 16 states this year. The nine cases reported in Illinois have not all been confirmed.

AFM is caused by a virus, Enterovirus, the cause of cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, nasal congestion and cough, in summer and early fall, she says. However, certain strains of the Enterovirus are more likely to be associated with neurological complications.

The vast majority of people with Enterovirus get better without any problems, she says. “What parents need to look for is the sudden onset of things such as arm and leg weakness, sudden onset of difficulty swallowing or slurred speech, people may have facial weakness or droopiness. If any of these things occur, then they need to seek immediate medical attention,” she says.

Parents should always encourage good hand hygiene for themselves and their kids, make sure kids are eating adequately, keep their kids hydrated and treat discomfort with acetaminophen or Ibuprofen.

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