Clearing up the confusion about Enterovirus D68 and paralysis

By Mark Gorman, MD, Director of the Pediatric Neuro-Immunology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital

20141001_Gorman-7If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve likely heard that a very small number of the patients currently being tested for Enterovirus D68 (EVD68) at Boston Children’s Hospital and other hospitals around the country, have developed some additional neurological symptoms including muscle paralysis or weakness of the arms and/or legs.

These symptoms are particularly frightening to parents and caregivers because they are so similar to symptoms associated with polio. Please be assured, this is not polio, and may be completely unrelated to EVD68. At this point, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have not made a connection between the muscle paralysis and weakness and EVD68.

Boston Children’s confirmed yesterday that we have treated four patients with those neurological symptoms. The youngest is four years old; the oldest is 15. All four patients had a history of respiratory illness. We did not find any enteroviruses in their spinal fluid and we are waiting on additional tests results to come back from the lab.

In the meantime, two of the four children have already recovered enough to be discharged and one is on a regular neurology inpatient floor. Only one requires intermediate care unit-level care.

Here are a few important facts that you should be aware of:

  • While you may have heard that EVD68 is related to the virus that causes polio (which was eradicated using a vaccine developed at Boston Children’s), these paralysis symptoms are not due to the polio virus.
  • Enteroviruses in general can sometimes cause similar neurologic illness.
  • Enterovirus infections are common, especially at this time of the year.
  • The CDC and the hospital clinicians who are treating these cases have not confirmed a link between EVD68 and neurological paralysis.
  • The CDC is working with state and local public health officials to identify cases, collect information and perform laboratory studies that will help us figure out the root cause of these symptoms.

Remember: If your child is having difficulty breathing or has new weakness, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.

To better prepare families, Boston Children’s Hospital has created an educational sheet that outlines what EV-D68 is and what families should do to avoid exposure. The information can be found here on our website.