University of Minnesota doctor makes connections to AFM cases

A doctor at the University of Minnesota Medical School made some important connections about the children who came down with a rare muscle paralysis condition last fall.

In a new CDC report on the cluster of cases, she found a specific virus and some important insights to help doctors better identify the condition.

It was a shock to Orville Young’s mom last summer when her son couldn’t move his arm. It was suspected he had a very rare condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). The paralyzing condition is caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.

“What happens is a child may develop a weakness suddenly and not be able to walk and not be able to raise their arms where they previously been able to do so,” said Dr. Heidi Moline, the chief resident of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  

Dr. Moline just conducted a cluster study of the condition. She discovered that it affected at least 10 Minnesota children last summer and fall. All of the children were between the ages of one-and-a-half to 10 years old.

“So, what we saw is that children had a viral prodrome, where they had kind of a cold-like illness, maybe with a fever,” said Dr. Moline. “And then, they got better. And so they got better for a week, they went to bed feeling well and woke up in the morning and then had difficulty raising their arm to brush their hair and they were able to hold their spoon with their cereal, but couldn’t raise it to their mouth.”  

She also discovered that a long-suspected virus, called the enterovirus, was present in the cerebrospinal fluid of one of the children.

“We haven’t been able to isolate enterovirus D68, which we had presumed caused this illness,” said Dr. Moline. “However, we found it in one of our patients in the cerebrospinal fluid which is a definitive cause in that patient.”  

This is the first time in the United States that this enterovirus link was made during an outbreak. 

The insight of kids going from being healthy to waking up and not being able to move their arms or legs is a critically important clue or symptom to help doctors quickly diagnose this condition, so they can get the kids into immediate intervention.