Missouri mother worries her son may have rare, polio-like illness

ST. LOUIS – As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new report about a polio-like virus, a Gasconade County mother worries her son may have it.

So far, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) has been found mostly in children. It leads to polio-like symptoms such as arm or leg weakness or difficulty swallowing.

The CDC says that AFM is very rare, probably one in a million in the US, but a Missouri mom worries her son may just be that one.

“I want to find out what’s going on. There’s something going on,” Nicole Swoboda said.

For nearly six months, Swoboda says she’s watched as her 17-month-old son, Haiden Vaughn, has gone from a perfectly happy and healthy toddler to a hospital bed.

“He has a swallowing issue. He doesn’t talk; before he was talking. He was saying ‘mom,’ ‘dad,’ ‘sissy,’ and ‘bye-bye.’ He was waving to people. He won’t even do any of that anymore,” she said. “He grabs his arm and holds it with his other arm like he can’t support it. He’s losing muscle mass. He used to be able to run; now he stumbles and falls down.”

Swoboda says Haiden has been in and out of the hospital as his symptoms continue to get worse. She believes this all started in May with what looked like a mysterious bug bite.

“He had a cluster of three bites on his inner thigh. Then he broke out with this hellacious rash all over his body,” she said. “He had red bumps. They were like blisters. They turned into what looked like a lesion on his skin.”

As Swoboda continues to search for answers to her son’s illness, the CDC says in the past two months, it’s received an increase in reports of patients who have symptoms of Acute Flaccid Myelitis or AFM.

Dr. Nirav Patel, who specializes in infectious disease and is the Chief Medical Officer for SSM Health, says it can present with common cold symptoms and lead polio-like implications.

“We’re going to need to identify the virus that is causing it, design vaccines that work against it, and then implement those vaccines on a widespread basis,” Patel said.

But right now, the cause of the AFM is unknown.

Some research shows it may be linked to enterovirus or West Nile Virus, among other illnesses, according to the CDC.

The CDC’s investigation shows there have been 386 confirmed cases in the US from August 2014 to September 2018, most were children. Sixty-two of those confirmed AFM cases are from this year, this comes as the CDC collects more reports.

“We try to allow the body to heal since there’s really no cure or treatment for this,” Patel said.

Patel says doctors may suggest physical therapy or something of the sort to help with muscle weakness on a case by case basis but he says the biggest concern is keeping the lungs functional.