CHEO confirms cases of rare polio-like disease

A mysterious disease targeting children is experiencing a small surge in the U.S., as more than 60 cases of the polio-like paralysis have been confirmed across the country. Now, CHEO is confirming cases of the rare disease in Ottawa.

Acute flaccid paralysis, whose victims are primarily children, a mystery to doctors

CHEO is confirming two cases of the mysterious polio-like disease this year. (CBC)

CHEO is confirming two cases of a rare disease that causes polio-like paralysis in children.

Acute flaccid paralysis, also known as acute flaccid myelitis, is experiencing a small surge in the U.S., where more than 60 cases have been confirmed in recent weeks.

Doctors don't know what causes the ailment, nor are they sure why it affects primarily children — nor why so many new cases are being reported now. 

"​We have [had] two patients we have treated in CHEO for [acute flaccid paralysis] since the summer,​" said Dr. Sunita Venkateswaran, a pediatric neurogologist with the children's hospital. "There isn't a consistent cause, and we don't understand the whole physiology behind it at this point."

The disease affects a part of the spinal cord called the anterior horn, which helps control movement.

Symptoms include paralysis of one or more limbs, drooping of the face and eyelids, difficulty with eye movement and swallowing, and slurred speech. Children may also have trouble breathing, and in severe cases may require a ventilator due to muscle weakness.

Rare, polio-like paralysis in Ottawa

CBC News Ottawa

3 years ago
CHEO's Dr. Sunita Venkateswaran explains what it is and what to watch out for. 0:52

Tends to disappear in fall

Venkateswaran said that in 2014 there were a number of cases across Canada, but the disease stopped spreading in the fall. She expects the same to happen this year. 

Though there's very little known about the illness, doctors have determined it's not polio, despite the similar symptoms. 

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 127 reported cases of the disease this year, and one child in the U.S. has died.

The average age of the U.S. patients this year is four, and doctors in Canada are reporting a similar pattern.

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is also reporting cases of the disease. In an email to doctors last week, the hospital said the children they've seen have had weakness in their arms or legs, and some have had to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Venkateswaran said parents should seek medical help if their child is experiencing a sudden weakness in any part of the body, a sudden loss of bowel or bladder control, or neck pain.