Outbreak Of a Rare Syndrome Likely Prevented, Postponed By S
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Social distancing not only helped slow the spread of COVID-19 it also may have prevented the transmission of an outbreak of a rare polio-like syndrome, according to researchers. Though uncommon, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a critical spinal condition that causes weakness in the limbs, seriously diminishes motor function, and can lead to lifelong disabilities.

Using epidemiological surveillance tools, the researchers showed that an AFM outbreak was likely to occur in 2020, but social distancing prevented its spread. The reason was that social distancing reduced the occurrence of a respiratory illness known as enterovirus 68 (EV-D68), which the researchers found is strongly associated with AFM.

EV-D68 is a virus found in infants and children that typically causes respiratory issues such as a runny nose, cough, or sneezing. The team sought to better understand the connection between AFM and EV-D68 and whether another outbreak might occur. Their findings suggest that vaccines targeting EV-D68 could lessen future outbreaks of AFM.

EV-D68 outbreaks have been reported every two years, coinciding with the outbreak pattern of AFM, the researchers said. To confirm this connection, they analyzed patterns of EV-D68 outbreaks using unique surveillance data acquired from BioFire Syndromic Trends (Trend), a cloud-based network of de-identified pathogen results from around the world collected in near-real-time.

The results revealed that EV-D68 outbreaks were occurring every two years in many states, though not all. Likely thanks to social distancing, AFM cases remained low in 2020. There were only 31 cases in 2020 compared to 153 cases in 2016 and 238 cases in 2018.