She woke up and couldn't move her legs: An inside look at the rare disease spiking across the US

Posted at 12:39 AM, Oct 10, 2018

PARKER, Colo. — When 22-year-old Hannah McNeill went to sleep one night in August earlier this year, she had no idea her life was going to be dramatically altered. She woke up, couldn't move her legs and eventually was diagnosed with a rare polio-like disease that is now on the rise in Colorado.

"You never think it would happen to you so you don't prepare for it," she told KMGH. 

Acute flaccid myelitis is a spinal disease caused by a form of enterovirus. It's extremely rare and usually impacts children, causing loss of feeling and use of the arms or legs. It can leave children with permanent paralysis. 

"I was trying to move my toes and my feet and nothing would happen," she explained. "I knew what I wanted to do but I couldn’t pull my leg up, couldn’t take a step."

Health officials report 14 cases in Colorado so far in 2018. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said of those cases 11 people tested positive for enterovirus A71, one tested positive for enterovirus D68 and two people tested negative for any type of enterovirus.

"While all the patients were hospitalized, nearly all have fully recovered. There have been no deaths," CDPHE's Shannon Barbare said in a statement. 

But McNeill still hasn't fully recovered. 

"I still don't have all my leg strength which is why I'm in a wheelchair," she said.

"There is no vaccination or specific treatment for enteroviruses. People with mild illness typically need treatment only for symptoms," Barbare said in a statement. "However, some illnesses caused by EV-A71 and EV-D68 can be severe enough to require hospitalization."

Colorado has previously had outbreaks of the less-common enterovirus types. Enterovirus D68 sickened 11 people with AFM. Enterovirus A71 caused similar epidemics to this year's in 2003 and 2005, the CDPHE said.

The CDC has a web page devoted to AFM. It says that most patients afflicted by the disease are children and that scientists have not yet determined a single pathogen detected in patients’ spinal fluid that causes AFM.

But in McNeill's case, she said she's not done getting back to her normal life. She goes to physical therapy three times a week and has been making progress in the weeks since she was released from the hospital. 

"Two months ago I couldn’t walk, now I can in my walker," she said. "I have to get on my feet. I have a horse to ride. I have hair to do. I have so much life to live so this isn't gonna stop me now."