Courtesy of CDC

Norton Healthcare has confirmed treating three cases of a mysterious and potentially life-threatening condition mostly affecting children in more than two dozen states.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert earlier this week about an increase in cases of acute flaccid myelitis or AFM, a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system.

Dr. Michael Sweeney, a pediatric neurologist with Norton Children’s Hospital, said Norton Healthcare has seen three cases in kids ages 3 to 8.

One patient was a local child, Sweeney said. The other two cases involved an Indiana child and a Kentucky child from outside Louisville.

“From the people who I’ve talked to at CDC, all three cases that we’ve sent testing for meet the criteria for what we’re using to call acute flaccid myelitis,” said Sweeney, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville.

| Photo by Tony Pacheco

“The symptoms ranged from weakness that affects one arm or leg to very severe symptoms where the weakness involved the entire body and the muscles that controlled breathing,” he said.

Two of the patients are in good condition, and the third, whose symptoms were the most severe, is in stable condition, Sweeney said.

So far in 2018, there have been 62 confirmed cases in the United States in 22 states among patients with an average age of 4, according to the CDC. Those cases are among a total of 127 reports that CDC has received of patients whose cases are under investigation.

Though the illness can be serious, parents in the Louisville area shouldn’t panic, Sweeney said.

“This is still a very rare thing that’s happening,” he said. “… It seems that about every two years we’re seeing a spike in the number of cases (nationally), but it’s still a relatively small number of cases nationwide.”

It is unclear what is causing the illness, but none of the country’s specimens have tested positive for poliovirus, according to the CDC.

However, two of the three Norton patients have tested positive for Enterovirus D68, which is suspected of being involved (the results weren’t in yet on the third patient), Sweeney said.

Enterovirus D68 can cause upper respiratory symptoms, and in certain individuals, “we think it can result in the (AFM) damage that happens in the spinal cord,” Sweeney said. “We don’t know if it’s a direct injury or (if) somehow a virus or other infection sets off an abnormal immune system response that’s causing the damage.”

Parents should seek medical attention for their children if they notice new onset of weakness that’s affecting one or more limbs, he said. Also, inflammation can affect the nerves that control things like the facial muscles or swallowing or breathing, so that’s something else to watch for.

As far as precautions are concerned, Sweeney said it isn’t necessary to take drastic measures like pulling your child out of preschool. However, take routine steps like practicing good hand hygiene and trying to avoid people who are sick with fever, cough or congestion, he said.

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.