Researchers perplexed by polio-like paralysis affecting children in Canada, USA


Before getting sick on Labor Day weekend, Xavier Downton, 4, was looking forward to his first season of hockey. (Photo of the Downton family)


Almost three months after arriving at East Ontario Children's Hospital, suffering from a rare polio-like condition, a four-year-old boy is back home and getting ready for school.

Life is very different for Xavier Downton than he was before he was rushed to the CHEO on September 4, suffering from what his family thought was the flu.

The boy, who was eager to start hockey this fall, now uses a wheelchair – something doctors and therapists believe to be temporary.

"They think he's going to walk again and probably run again," said his mother, Rachelle Downton. "It only takes time."

And Xavier now has very little use of his right arm, which forced him to become left-handed, something he mastered with ease, says his mother.

After falling ill over the Labor Day weekend, Rachelle Downton's four-year-old son, Xavier, was diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Paralysis. (Julie Oliver, Postmedia)

There are many challenges ahead for Xavier and his family as a result of the damage caused by acute flaccid myelitis, the rare condition that knocked him out over Labor Day weekend.

Acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is the term used to describe the sudden onset of weakness in one or more limbs as a result of inflammation of the spinal cord.

Xavier's story comes in the wake of a new report on the mysterious and rare polio-like disease that appears in the United States and has now spread to 31 states, leaving at least 250 children sick.

Here, the Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed that there have been 48 probable cases of AFM across the country in 2018 – 25 confirmed and 23 investigated.

Authorities still have no idea what causes acute flaccid myelitis (MFA), how to treat or prevent it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating another 170 cases of people with AFM symptoms.

Most patients had a mild respiratory illness or fever, consistent with a virus, before becoming ill.

None of the cases was poliovirus-related, although the impact is similar to poliovirus. It is a condition that is causing increasing concern for public health authorities this year.


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