A Georgia mother said she put her 2-year-old daughter to bed running a fever with complaints of a double ear infection, but the next morning, the girl was paralyzed from the neck down.
Erica Palocios still does not know what caused her otherwise healthy child to lose control of her body, she told Channel 2 Action News.
"It's really heartbreaking,” she said. “No parent should ever have to experience that. And what makes it worse ... is not knowing what caused it."
Doctors diagnosed 2-year-old Abigail with suspected acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, the news station reported. AFM is a rare neurological condition that can cause polio-like illnesses, mostly in young children and teens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported it has confirmed 62 cases of AFM in 22 states so far this year. In Georgia so far this year, there have been an estimated three confirmed, or probable, cases of AFM with two possible other cases under investigation, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
In 2017, there were 33 confirmed cases in 16 states, the CDC reported.
Of the confirmed cases, the average age of patients was 4 years old. More than 90 percent of the patients were 18 years old and younger, according to the CDC.
The Columbus girl is now making progress in physical therapy after she was treated at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital.
Dr. Sumit Verma, medical director of the neuromuscular program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said CHOA has seen nearly a dozen cases in the past few years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
“Unfortunately, there is no cure for acute flaccid myelitis,” he said in a statement. “However, symptomatic management is available and rehabilitation could improve function and quality of life.”
Verma said the illness can strike a healthy child “without notice,” but cautions it is still extremely rare.
So rare, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that chances are considered one in a million.
“It’s a very frustrating situation,” Fauci said in an interview with ABC News. “We do not know definitively what it is, although there is a suspicion, a strong suspicion, that it’s associated with a particular type of a virus that we recognize.”
Viruses like polio and West Nile Virus, as well as other viruses in the same family as West Nile, can be the cause, according to the CDC. But often, even with extensive lab tests, the cause of the illness cannot be identified.
Doctors are cautioning parents to be on the lookout for symptoms of AFM and to take basic steps to keep their children healthy, like hand-washing and keeping their children home when they’re sick.
According to health officials, symptoms may include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs, often following a respiratory illness. Other symptoms include weakness or stiffness in the neck, drooping eyelids or a facial droop, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.
They are also encouraging parents to get their kids up-to-date on their vaccines, including the polio vaccine.
While there is not currently a vaccine for West Nile virus, it can be prevented by protecting against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry the virus. The CDC recommends children use mosquito repellent and stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when bites are more common. Any standing or stagnant water should be removed from near homes, as it is often breeding grounds for mosquitoes.