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The Kansas City Star: CDC tells parents, docs to watch for rare, neurologic condition in children this fall

By Lisa Gutierrez

One morning at breakfast six years ago, as Dawn Sticklen’s healthy 13-year-old son tried to eat a bowl of cereal, his arms started shaking and got so weak he couldn’t feed himself.

“We thought maybe it was because he had been sick for a few days and maybe he was just kinda weak from not eating properly,” said Sticklen, who lives in Joplin.

“But he just kept saying it was getting harder and harder to move his arms. So we knew something was wrong. We got him in to see the doctors and they all were like, ‘this doesn’t look right.’”

Joplin doctors sent the family to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, where Billy Sticklen was quickly diagnosed with a rare neurologic condition called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

It left him temporarily paralyzed, unable to move anything but his hands and feet, like he had polio.

Billy’s case is just one of several hundred recorded in the United States since 2014. Since then, AFM has peaked every two years, with cases typically popping up from August to November.

“This is an incredibly rare disease,” said Dr. Jennifer Schuster, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Mercy, one of seven sites in the United States helping the CDC research the condition.

“What the CDC is very wisely doing ... is recognizing that we have seen clusters in 2014, 2016, 2018, even-numbered years. And here we are in 2020, and we are very distracted by another infectious disease that is circulating.

“So the CDC is reminding us that there are other things that we need to be mindful of, particularly during this time.”

AFM “has been around for quite some time,” Schuster said, but gained renewed attention in 2014 when clusters popped up across the country.

Physicians at Children’s Mercy were among the first in the nation to recognize that the virus, once considered rare, was causing an outbreak of severe respiratory illnesses in the summer of 2014. 


Read the full story via The Kansas City Star

Learn more about the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Mercy