Closings & Delays

Suspected cases of polio-like illness popping up across PA

WEST MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP, YORK COUNTY, Pa. --- A polio-like illness is affecting mostly children across the country.

According the the state Department of Health, there are currently three confirmed cases and four suspected cases.

It’s called Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or "AFM."

Christa Bottomley says when her son, Sebastian, was five years old, they were on a trip in Philadelphia.

She said the family was dealing with cold symptoms.

She says they were heading back to a friend's place to put her kids to sleep when she realized she lost the key.

While working on a plan, she said the kids had to go to the bathroom.

That's when she noticed something was wrong.

“When I went to take Sebastian in the bathroom, he couldn’t get his hand into the sink. He was trying, he just couldn’t get it up into the sink and as we were leaving the bathroom, I noticed he was kind of tripping a little bit,” said Bottomley.

She says 48 hours later, Sebastian was paralyzed from the neck down.

He was having troubles breathing, speaking and turning his neck.

At first, Christa says Sebastian was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, or TM.

A month later, she said an MRI revealed Acute Flaccid Myelitis.

Dr. Ena Saini, infectious disease physician with Geisinger Holy Spirit in Camp Hill, said it’s a disease that attacks muscles and nerves in the arms and legs that causes paralysis.

However, she said very little is known about AFM, at this point.

“It’s still a mystery disease until we know what causes it, what triggers it, what makes it better. We just have to take precautions,” said Dr. Saini.

Dr. Saini said while it is Polio-like, the disease is not Polio.

She said it becomes more prevalent in the end of summer and fall months.

She said symptoms can start with fatigue, move to weakness in the legs, then weakness in the arms.

Symptoms can worsen in a matter of days or weeks, according to Dr. Saini.

Dr. Saini explained AFM can cause life-long paralysis in some patients and others can fully recover.

Bottomley said Sebastian’s journey started immediately.

She said he received a “plex” treatment to help his breathing, IVIG treatment also helped, and about 2000 hours of intensive physical therapy at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

Now seven years old, Sebastian is able to walk with a walker, transfer himself to and from his wheelchair, and stand up enough to reach high cabinets.

“Those things would not have been possible if he didn’t have immediate intensive physical therapy,” said Bottomley.

For parents, Christa said if their child isn’t feeling good, even if it appears to be a cold, take it seriously.

She said if any weakness or paralysis is spotted in the child, they should be taken to the emergency room immediately.

“They need to insist on a MRI or spinal tap, if necessary...It is their job to help their child get better. It’s a lot of work, but it’s ultimately their job,” said Bottomley.

According to the PA Department of Health, the number of confirmed cases goes, as follows:

2017 – 1 confirmed case
2016 – 7 confirmed cases
2015 – 0 cases
2014 – 7 confirmed cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they've seen 386 confirmed cases, nationwide, since 2014.

Currently, they've reported 62 confirmed cases of AFM in the country in 22 states.

A total of 127 suspected cases of AFM have been reported.

Dr. Saini said that while the disease is considered an epidemic, it's considered rare with "one in one million patients" getting AMF.

As far as preventative measures, Dr. Saini said to never underestimate the power of using and teaching children appropriate hand-washing methods.

Christa refers any parents to a AFM awareness Facebook page, which can be found here.

She also recommends a website on Transverse Myelitis for further background and information.