Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is also known as new poliomyelitis. Its main target is also children. When it infects the nervous system, it will lead to limb paralysis. Polio is known to be caused by an enterovirus called polioelitis, but researchers are still confused about the cause of AFM.
A new study by Ryan Schubert, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, found that two enteroviruses seem to be the cause of most AFM.
The two viruses, known as ev-d68 and ev-a71, were discovered decades ago and may have been causing flu like symptoms in humans for hundreds of years. But their association with AFM suggests that the two viruses have developed new abilities to infect the nervous system.
Previous studies have also pointed to this association, with ev-d68 and ev-a71 being found in spinal fluid of several children with confirmed AFM. In addition, AFM cases are more common during ev-d68 and ev-a71 outbreaks.
The reason that prevented researchers from confirming the causal relationship between the two viruses and AFM was that no evidence of their presence was found in AFM patients. In 590 confirmed cases, only 4 patients found two enteroviruses in spinal fluid, so the evidence is very scarce.
Schuberts study found antibodies to ev-d68 and ev-a71 in spinal fluid of most AFM patients, which brought scientists closer to determining that these two specific enteroviruses are the cause of AFM.
To confirm his findings, Schuberts team took spinal fluid samples from 42 AFM patients and 58 other children with other neurological disorders. The results showed that about 70% of children with AFM had antibodies against ev-d68 and ev-a71 in their spinal fluid, compared with only 7% of children with other neurological diseases.
Researchers also need to study these antibodies in more depth and will begin to try to develop vaccines and clinical tests to better diagnose the disease.
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