Rare, polio-like illness sickens 3-year-old in Iowa

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GRIMES, Iowa (KCCI) — A Grimes family is warning parents after what they thought was the common cold turned into a mysterious polio-like disease in their 3-year-old son.

After being healthy his entire life, Camden Stravers came down with what his parents thought was the common cold over the summer.

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In a matter of days, he runny nose turned into something much worse.

“He stopped being able to support his head,” said Justin Stravers, Camden’s father. “His right arm function went away, and he couldn’t stand up.”

“He was eating some food and he could get them out of the bag, but couldn’t get them up to his mouth,” said Camden’s mother, Kelli Stravers. “So, his arm literally quit working while we were in the ER at (Blank Children’s Hospital).”

After many tests, doctors diagnosed Camden with acute flaccid myelitis — a disease that mimics polio and causes paralysis.

“It’s a sudden onset of weakness in an arm, leg, face or the muscles that help us swallow and that we use to speak,” said Dr. Amaran Moodle, with Blank Children’s Hospital.

Moodley, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases, said Camden is only the second documented case of acute flaccid myelitis ever in Iowa.

Many children may get the virus, Moodley said, but only 1 in 100,000 become paralyzed.

“He goes to an in-home day care, and every other kid in his day care literally could have had the exact same virus and just had a runny nose,” Kelli Stravers said. “For him, it just happened to attack his spinal cord.”

Doctors do not know why the virus affects some children differently.

After five weeks in the hospital, Camden’s parents said he is doing much better. On Tuesday, he moved to ChildServe in Johnston to receive therapy.

Moodley said the outcome of acute flaccid myelitis is unclear because there is still so much to learn about the disease.

“We don’t have any effective treatments, and so often we don’t know if the paralysis will be reversible,” he said.

In the meantime, Camden’s parents said they are staying positive for their son.

Kelli Stravers said she and her husband are grateful they acted right away and want to warn other parents to do the same.

“You know your kid, and if you think something is wrong, and seriously wrong, take them to the ER and get them checked out,” she said.

Moodley said parents should not panic if their child catches a cold and encourages parents to keep an eye on children with colds to see if they develop new weakness.

He also said the best way to stop the spread of acute flaccid myelitis is to wash your hands and avoiding close contact with someone who is sick.