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Doctors May Have Found Cause of Mysterious Polio-Like Disease Striking Kids

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A mysterious disease similar to polio that has affected children in the United States, Canada, and Europe since 2014 is likely caused by a virus.

Medical researchers point to the enterovirus D68 as the culprit of the illness. Since 2014, a mystery illness causing weak limbs and paralysis in children has spread. Doctors believe the mystery disease is caused by enterovirus D68.

The rare disease infecting children, often result in weakened limbs, breathing difficulties, and in some cases, even paralysis. The mystery illness has continued to baffle doctors and medical researchers until recently. A new study presents fresh evidence that the illness is caused by a virus.

Rise In Acute Flaccid Myelitis

The rare disease, identified by doctors as acute flaccid myelitis, has affected 2,280 people in the three countries, with 120 patients in the United States alone. This medical condition has now been documented 14 countries and six continents. AFM causes paralysis due to lesions in the anterior horn of the spinal cord.

During the same period when the rare polio-like disease was first recorded in 2014, there were also unusually large outbreaks of Enterovirus D68. This virus also known as EV-D68, causes a runny nose, cough, muscle aches, fever, and difficulty breathing in patients.

Researchers are now linking AFM to EV-D68.

"What started as a mystery illness that was causing sudden paralysis in children is now much better understood," said Dr. Kevin Messacar, study author and pediatric infectious disease specialist from Children's Hospital Colorado.

"Accumulated evidence which supports Enterovirus D68 as a likely cause of acute flaccid myelitis will advance prevention and treatment efforts," he said.

Enterovirus D68

Before 2014, EV-D68 is a rare form of a virus with only less than 700 identified cases since it was discovered in the 1960s. EV-D68 causes mild respiratory symptoms.

Infections with enteroviruses are common in the United States during summer and fall according to the Centers for Diseases and Prevention. A nationwide outbreak was declared in 2014 with a total of 1,153 confirmed cases across 49 states. Children with asthma or a history of wheezing are at risk for severe symptoms of enterovirus infection.

There is no specific treatment for EV-D68, however. Good hygiene and proper washing of hands with soap and water can help prevent the spread of the virus.

Prepare For A Possible Return

The study proposes the need for better preparation for the possible return of AFM in 2018 and beyond. It also underscores the importance of comprehensive surveillance and research to further define the role of EV-D68 in AFM to pursue effective therapies and prevention strategies.

The researchers used the scientific method Bradford Hill criteria to investigate the evidence for a relationship between AFM and EV-D68.

This method, which features nine principles to determine causality, was previously used to prove that smoking causes cancer. The same method helped recognize Zika virus infection in pregnant women as a potential source of birth defects.

The study titled "Enterovirus D68 and acute flaccid myelitis -- evaluating the evidence for causality" is published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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