The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it doesn’t know what’s causing a sudden rise in cases of a frightening, polio-like condition that leaves children paralyzed or with weakened limbs.
The No. 1 suspect had been a virus called enterovirus D68, or EV-D68. In 2014, a wave of cases of acute flaccid myelitis coincided with outbreaks of EV-D68 across the country.
But the CDC says it has not consistently found EV-D68 in confirmed cases since then. Officials say they’re looking at a range of possible causes.
However, doctors who have been studying children affected by acute flaccid myelitis say they have gathered a growing body of evidence that EV-D68 is the main cause, and that the virus may have changed in recent years in ways that make the paralyzing side-effects more likely.
They’ve documented an increase in cases of EV-D68 surrounding outbreaks of acute flaccid myelitis. Experiments have also shown that EV-D68 can invade nerve tissue, including the spine, and there’s also evidence of genetic changes in the virus itself.
Doctors are struggling to find a cause of this paralyzing condition
A team of academic researchers have formed their own network to try to determine why a very few children develop the paralyzing syndrome from a virus that is harmless in more than 99 percent of those it infects.
“It’s puzzling that four years later CDC has not confirmed the etiology of these cases,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.
“Continuing to frame this as a mystery after so many years doesn’t do the public health any justice,” added Khan, a former director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.