NewsYour Health MattersAsk Dr. Nandi

CDC warns about Enterovirus D68, virus raises rare risk of neurologic complications in kids

Posted at 5:57 PM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 17:57:04-04

(WXYZ) — The CDC is urging doctors and hospitals to be on the lookout for enterovirus D68 in children. The infection can lead to AFM - acute flaccid myelitis – a disorder that causes extreme muscle weakness.

AFM can leave a child with permanent paralysis. The risk of permanent paralysis is extremely rare. Only a small number of kids infected with enterovirus D68 develop AFM - acute flaccid myelitis.

Now let me explain what these are. Enterovirus D68 is a contagious virus and cases typically peak between August and November. It most often causes respiratory infections in children and teens, although adults can get infected too. Most children develop cold-like symptoms, for example, a runny nose, a cough, fever and body aches. However, if a child has asthma, they can develop more severe symptoms like wheezing and difficulty breathing. Having said that, any child can develop severe illness.

Now, why do some kids develop the nervous system disorder AFM - acute flaccid myelitis? Some experts think the virus settles in the spinal fluid, which leads to AFM. Children develop problems with their muscles - they become weak and stop working. AFM typically develops a few weeks after the initial infection. So parents should be aware that serious complications, like permanent paralysis, are rare but can still happen.

There was an outbreak in 2014. 130 children developed AFM and 14 people reportedly died. During the 2018 outbreak, there were 238 reports of AFM and no deaths reported during the acute illness of patients.

As for a vaccine for enterovirus D68, there isn’t one. And there’s also no specific treatment either. Most kids with mild symptoms improve in a week or two. But if your child develops arm or leg weakness, facial drooping or slurred speech, then seek medical attention right away.

Now, the best way to avoid the virus or slow its spread is by practicing good hygiene. Since it spreads through coughing and sneezing, please remind children to:

  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
  • Ask them not to share items like eating utensils, cups, towels or clothing.
  • And lastly, it’s important to wash hands often with soap and water.

The good news is that so far, there’s been no reports of paralysis in this wave of infections. But that could change as the virus spreads.