Nebraska’s first case of paralyzing illness confirmed in Sarpy and Cass health department’s area

Nebraska’s first confirmed case of a paralyzing illness has been documented in a child in the Sarpy/Cass Health Department’s jurisdiction.

The child was hospitalized for the condition, acute flaccid myelitis, and later released, Dr. Tom Safranek, Nebraska’s state epidemiologist, said Wednesday.

A suspected case in a Douglas County youngster was not confirmed by a thorough review by federal health officials.

The Douglas County child met some — but not all — of the criteria for a confirmed case of acute flaccid myelitis, according to Douglas County health officials.

A third suspected case, also in the Sarpy-Cass department’s area, still is under investigation and is undergoing further review at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Safranek said health officials have found no connection between the two Sarpy-Cass cases. “We look carefully for that kind of stuff,” he said.

The lack of spread associated with the condition, he said, is a good thing. Rare but serious, the condition affects mostly children and as yet has no clear cause.

“The thing that lowers my blood pressure, (is that) we’re not seeing clustering, we’re not seeing (spread among) family members or (in) day cares,” Safranek said. “We’re not seeing evidence of immediate, person-to-person spread.”

Two cases have been confirmed in Iowa.

According to a CDC update Monday, 116 cases have been confirmed so far in 31 states in 2018.

Symptoms tend to occur about a week after a child has had a fever and respiratory illness. They include muscle weakness or paralysis, including in the face, neck, back or limbs. CDC officials say at least half the patients do not recover from the paralysis and some have serious complications.

Safranek said he did not know whether the Sarpy-Cass child has had lingering effects. Health officials said the child is recovering at home.

Safranek said health officials will continue to keep a close eye on the Douglas County child, who did have a paralytic illness. Health officials, however, are following a strict case definition in order to avoid including patients with similar but separate conditions. That could muddy the patient pool as researchers study the condition and seek a cause.

“It enhances the likelihood you’re going to pinpoint what’s causing this,” he said.

Federal officials recently announced that they are setting up a task force to investigate what causes the disease and find better treatments for patients.

While acute flaccid myelitis is not a new condition, the increase in cases nationwide that began in 2014 is new, state health officials said. A total of 440 cases were confirmed in the United States from August 2014 to October 2018.

Each year that cases have run higher — 2014 and 2016 — the illnesses have spiked in September and tailed off significantly by November.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services began surveillance for the condition in 2014 after cases appeared in Colorado. Health care providers were required to begin reporting it to the state in 2016. The department has provided information on recognizing, managing and reporting potential cases to health care providers and health departments across the state.

Some additional tips:

  • If parents see potential symptoms in their child, they should contact their health care provider promptly.
  • While there is no treatment for the condition or proven prevention strategy, washing hands, covering coughs and staying home when sick can help avoid illness.
  • Parents or others concerned about the illness can find out more at cdc.gov/acute-flaccid-myelitis.

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