A RISE in cases of a rare and incurable disease that can paralyse children has led to a probe by health officials.
Acute flaccid paralysis affects the nervous system, causing one or more of the limbs to become weak or floppy and can look similar to polio.
A total of 28 cases of AFP have been reported in the country this year, according to official figures.
That is more than the previous nine years combined and there were only 25 cases between 2009 and 2017.
Public Health England has now begun investigating the spike in outbreaks of the condition, which mainly affects children.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE stressed that that the disease is “very rare”.
“However, if you or your child develops weakness in any limb you should seek medical care immediately so that appropriate testing and care can be given.
“We are investigating potential causes and working hard to build better awareness amongst health care professionals about how to test and manage patients with AFP.”
Symptoms of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)
AFM is rare but incredibly serious.
It affects the nervous system – in particular, part of the spinal cord which causes muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak.
Most people will have a sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Other sings can include:
- facial droop/weakness,
- difficulty moving the eyes,
- drooping eyelids, or
- difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech
- pain in arms or legs
The most severe symptom of AFM is respiratory failure that can happen when the muscles involved with breathing become weak.
In very rare cases, it is possible that the process in the body that triggers AFM may also trigger other serious neurologic complications that could lead to death.
AFP can be difficult to diagnose because there are many other causes of weakness.
Doctors will typically examine a patient’s nervous system and look at images of the spinal cord and brain.
They can also test the fluid around the brain and spinal cord and may check the nervous system conduction.
The condition is thought to be caused by viruses called polioviruses and non-polio enteroviruses, which has led to comparison with polio, a disease which has been eradicated.
The increase in the UK comes amid a record high number of cases of an almost identical condition in the US this year.
At least 158 children have been affected, acute flaccid myelitis, which has the same effects.
None have died but around half of the diagnosed patients have had to be taken into intensive care and put on ventilators.