A Potential Treatment for Polio-Like Disease, Acute Flaccid Myelitis, Disappoints

According to a story from EurekAlert!, researchers have been scrambling to find a useful treatment for acute flaccid myelitis, a rare disease that has been appearing in unusual numbers in certain parts of the country. So far, the results have been disappointing: a recent study testing the antidepressant fluoxetine showed that the drug had no effect on the disease.

About Acute Flaccid Myelitis

Acute flaccid myelitis is a condition that has only recently become known to science, and there is still a lot about it that remains unknown. This neurological disease can cause sudden symptoms, the most distinct of which is localized paralysis or weakness in the limbs. Scientists believe that this disease is most likely caused by infection of enterovirus 68. This virus is a close relative of poliovirus, which is the cause of polio and further suggests similarities between these illnesses. Symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis include acute limb paralysis, pain in the neck, limbs, or back, gray matter lesions (on MRI), difficulty breathing, and increased white blood cell count (suggesting inflammation or infection). There are currently no known treatments for acute flaccid myelitis; immune system altering drugs as well as other medications and procedures have been attempted, but none have seemed to have any effect. To learn more about acute flaccid myelitis, click here.

Results of Treatment With Fluoxetine

The results of the test were befuddling. Research has suggested that enterovirus D68 is a possible cause of acute flaccid myelitis, and laboratory testing showed that fluoxetine had potential antiviral effects against enterovirus D68. The antidepressant was recommended by several experts as a possible therapy. Still, the negative results further highlight the urgency for finding an effective treatment for the illness. These results may also raise some doubts about the role of D68 in the disease.

A retrospective study in fact found that kids who were treated with fluoxetine actually had worse muscle strength after treatment in comparison to those who were not. A total of 56 patients were evaluated. 28 kids who received multiple doses of the drug were compared against 26 kids that received either no dose or a single dose (only two kids in this group were dosed).

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