The mysterious disease that paralyzes children in the United States

A mysterious disease similar to polio is attacking hundreds of children throughout U.S. So far it has not been possible to determine what caused it, but it is known that its symptoms include sudden paralysis and, in many cases, irreversible. A new study, which completes and closes the circle of previous ones, indicates the possible cause.

The research, which has been published in the journal 'Nature medicine', points to enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). Experts have discovered signs of this virus in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients affected by polio-like disease. But it is not yet known how the condition arises, although having such solid evidence of the cause is a significant step in the right direction.

Previous studies

Two recent studies identified the presence of antibodies specific for enteroviruses in the fluid surrounding the central nervous system of patients diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (MFA). One of them, published in August, found scant signs of virus RNA in serum samples and cerebrospinal fluid from the patient, but identified antibodies against enterovirus in almost 80% of cases, compared to only 20% of healthy patients. Although the results were inconclusive because the study was conducted only with 14 affected patients.

The disease manifests itself as a cold, but continues to develop until it causes severe neurological damage that weakens the muscles

The other investigation most recent, conducted by scientists at the University of California in San Francisco, has found similar results among 42 children diagnosed with this pathology. The experts looked for antibodies in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients who could recognize enteroviruses and compared it with samples taken from 58 children who were healthy or had other varied neurological conditions.

As in the previous study, there were few signs of the virus itself. But in more than two-thirds of the samples of patients with MFA antibodies were found which coincide with proteins belonging to the family and the genus of the virus EV-D68. In comparison, only 7% of controls had similar results in their cerebrospinal fluid.

In addition, others additional tests confirmed it: Antibodies to the virus were much more likely to be present in the nervous system of patients with paralyzing disease.

The results they fail to detect the virus with their hands in the dough, but they provide the more solid evidence to date that a relatively common pathogen is behind an epidemic that has baffled health authorities for years.

Enterovirus D68 seems to be the culprit. Experts have discovered signs of this in the cerebrospinal fluid of affected patients

MFA cases have increased exponentially since it was first known in 2012. Hundreds of children in the US they suffer the debilitating effects of the disease.

The symptoms

This disease begins to manifest itself very similar to a cold, but it continues to develop towards severe neurological damage that weakens the muscles and reduces reflex movements. The similarities with the Polio paralyzing effects They suggested that it was this pathology, but without signs of the poliovirus, epidemiologists ruled it out.

The focus was soon on the EV-D68, a relatively common pathogen that was once associated with mild respiratory problems. The agent was not exactly unknown to health experts, since it was first identified in the 1960s, but it was also not considered a cause for alarm, since only 26 cases of EV-D68 infection were detected in the US between 1970 and 2005. This changed in 2014, with a record of serious respiratory infections caused by the virus.