US sees increase in respiratory infections that can lead to paralysis in children, CDC data shows

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CNN  — 

Doctors should prepare for a possible increase in young patients with enterovirus D68, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday, and that may be linked to more cases of the rare, paralyzing condition acute flaccid myelitis.

There was an increase in acute respiratory illnesses and emergency department visits driven by rhinovirus and enterovirus in children and adolescents this summer, new CDC data shows. The rise might be more specifically attributed to enterovirus D68, which, in rare cases, can lead to acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

“Health care facilities should be prepared for possible increases in pediatric health care use associated with severe EV-D68-associated respiratory illness,” the CDC said Tuesday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “Past increases in EV-D68 circulation were also associated with increased reports of AFM.”

AFM causes weakness and paralysis of the arms and legs.

The CDC has detected increases in enterovirus D68 every two years or so, and this month, the agency warned doctors to be on the lookout for infections. The virus tends to peak in the late summer and early fall.

The data shows that positive test results for rhinovirus/enterovirus “appears to be increasing at a rate comparable to that in past EV-D68 outbreak years,” doubling in a period of a few weeks through early September, the CDC said.

“In 2014, a widespread EV-D68 outbreak in the United States caused similar increases in medically attended severe respiratory illnesses and asthma exacerbations and was associated with an increase in AFM cases,” the report says.

In addition to testing for AFM, health care providers are urged to test for poliovirus in people suspected of having AFM because of the similarity in symptoms.

Enterovirus D68 causes symptoms that mirror those of common colds, with cough, shortness of breath, wheezing and sometimes fever. It requires doctors to take extra steps to diagnose.

CNN’s Brenda Goodman contributed to this report.

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