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Rare Polio-like Disease In Children May Be Caused By A Respiratory Virus

Acute flaccid myelitis or AFM, a rare disease that affects the spinal cord, the part of the nervous system that carries messages to and from the brain is a polio-like illness. The rare but serious condition affects a child's nervous system and causes the muscles to be weak and floppy[1] .

Consequently, a recent study asserted that the condition could be possibly caused by a strain of a respiratory virus called enterovirus.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis Causes Paralysis In Children

The condition usually develops after a respiratory infection, such as a cold and causes drooping eyelids, trouble moving the eyes, drooping mouth, slurred speech, trouble swallowing and trouble breathing. Till date, there has been wide-spread confusion as to what exactly causes acute flaccid myelitis [2] .

The study, conducted by a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine asserted that the rare and devastating condition caused by the respiratory virus affects fewer than one in a million children [3] and paralyses the child's arms and legs.

Various Studies Conducted, But The Virus Remained 'Missing'

The severity and the rarity of the condition had prompted extensive researches and studies being conducted on finding the cause of AFM but the virus had remained hidden or untraceable. Various studies had attempted to find the missing virus in the spinal fluid but the traditional testing methods did not help find the cause [4] .

Likewise, previous studies indicate that the virus could not be found in 98 per cent of patients diagnosed with AFM and went on to assimilate that the condition could be an autoimmune disorder.

Michael Wilson, M.D, the head researcher said, "if we could detect something specific to a virus in the spinal fluid of AFM patients, we would feel more secure claiming that the neurological symptoms of the disease are virally mediated."

Virus-hunting Tool Called VirScan Helped In Finding The Virus

For the current study, the researchers made use of an enhanced version of the virus-hunting tool called VirScan which aided in finding the presence of antibodies against the enterovirus in nearly 70 per cent of the patients.

However, Lot Of Questions Remain Unanswered

Although the study has been able to help find the relation between AFM and the respiratory virus, the researchers suggested that it has opened the Pandora's box of various doubts and questions.

"The strength of this study is not just what was found, but also what was not found...Enterovirus antibodies were the only ones enriched in AFM patients. No other viral family showed elevated antibody levels", said co-author Joe DeRisi.

Apart from this, the study also brought forth the finding that the specific set of strains of enteroviruses that were detected in the spinal fluid have never before been able to cause paralysis.

"There's ongoing work to determine if some genetic changes in the virus over the last few years may have made it more prone to causing this polio-like illness", said the head researcher [5] .

On A Final Note...

While there is a vast scope for further research, the head researchers assimilated that the next practical step would be to include research into antiviral drugs and also develop a vaccine for AFM.

View Article References
  1. [1] Schubert, R. D., Hawes, I. A., Ramachandran, P. S., Ramesh, A., Crawford, E. D., Pak, J. E., ... & Lyden, A. (2019). Pan-viral serology implicates enteroviruses in acute flaccid myelitis. Nature medicine, 1-5.
  2. [2] Messacar, K., Schreiner, T. L., Van Haren, K., Yang, M., Glaser, C. A., Tyler, K. L., & Dominguez, S. R. (2016). Acute flaccid myelitis: a clinical review of US cases 2012–2015. Annals of neurology, 80(3), 326-338.
  3. [3] Crone, M., Tellier, R., Wei, X. C., Kuhn, S., Vanderkooi, O. G., Kim, J., ... & Mineyko, A. (2016). Polio-like illness associated with outbreak of upper respiratory tract infection in children. Journal of child neurology, 31(4), 409-414.
  4. [4] Foster, C. B., Friedman, N., Carl, J., & Piedimonte, G. (2015). Enterovirus D68: a clinically important respiratory enterovirus. Cleve Clin J Med, 82(1), 26-31.
  5. [5] Rodriguez, A. (2019, October 22). Mysterious polio-like disease targeting kids may be caused by 'missing' virus, study says.

Read more about: acute flaccid myelitis afm
Story first published: Sunday, November 3, 2019, 9:00 [IST]
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