Colorado doctors are treating yet another case of paralysis and muscle weakness in a child, and once again are investigating to see if there is a link between enterovirus 68 and the muscle symptoms.
The number of children affected with these symptoms has now reached 10, and there remains some mystery as to how a respiratory virus might be the cause of this kind of muscle problem.
Part of what makes this extra baffling is some, but not all of the children were found to be infected with enterovirus 68 — yet others had a recent history of a different virus, including rhinovirus — which is the virus that causes the common cold.
We know all viruses have the potential to attack different parts of the body. It’s very rare but yet it can happen. In these cases a respiratory virus has caused cough and cold symptoms, and then went on to attack the spinal cord and part of the brain.
The main areas affected with muscle weakness have been the shoulders, upper arms, and the hips. A few of the kids have had some slight weakness of the muscles of the face. Out of the 10, six have recovered to the point where they could be sent home. There are few details otherwise.
All told, doctors at Children’s Hospital say they have treated close to 4,000 children with suspected enterovirus 68 since August, and there are thousands more in our state who never had to go to the doctor or even got more than the sniffles.
The virus continues to march across the country, and it’s not known if there are other causes of muscle symptoms elsewhere — we just know there is a cluster in Colorado. Note the word cluster — not epidemic.
You may ask, has anything like this every been seen before? Yes. Doctors at Stanford in California identified more than 20 causes of paralysis-type symptoms in children after a respiratory illness back in 2012. And like Colorado, the majority of kids had been current with vaccines and protected from the actual polio virus. It was something else causing the complication.
In sum, what we know:
Respiratory viruses can cause nerve, and other unusual damage (although rarely.) This is not new.
We are not sure there is a link between enterovirus 68 and this cluster. It has happened before but it doesn’t add up right now. This is an unusual number cases nationally as well as being more severe than we’ve seen before.
The link to enterovirus 68 may be coincidence, it may not. This could even be a new viirus or one that’s mutated or changed somewhat.
The respiratory component remains the major concern.
Doctors are not in panic mode. The detection and care of these cases have been beyond excellent to this point.
So, as a parent, what should you be thinking (or worrying about) right now?
First and foremost, kids are back in school. They are going to be exposed to a wide variety of germs. Practice good hygiene.
Keep them home if they are sick.
If they have asthma or some other respiratory conditions keep them up-to-date on their meds. The No. 1 cause of hospitalizations has been severe breathing problems, not the muscle weakness.
Finally, don’t be afraid to have your child checked over — even if you think it’s just a bad cold. Any problems breathing? Check it out. Any concerns about muscle symptoms? Check it out.
Cases of enterovirus 68 and respiratory infections continue to rise — there has in fact been a jump in the past two weeks. It is best to play it cautious as we figure this out.