By Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Nov. 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) is ineffective in treating a rare, polio-like disorder that can cause muscle weakness and paralysis in children, researchers are reporting.
In the United States, there have been 219 possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) reported so far this year, and 80 have been confirmed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 120 confirmed cases in 2014, 22 cases in 2015, 149 cases in 2016 and 33 cases in 2017, the agency said.
The cause of the disorder is unclear, but some patients have been infected with a usually harmless common cold virus called EV-D68.
Researchers have been searching for possible treatments for AFM. Lab tests showed that fluoxetine had antiviral effects against EV-D68, so some experts suggested that the antidepressant might be a possible treatment for the disorder.
In this study, researchers examined data from 56 children -- aged 30 months to 9 years -- who were treated for AFM at 12 U.S. medical centers in 2015 and 2016. More than one dose of fluoxetine was given to 28 patients, while 28 were not given the drug or received just one dose and were considered untreated.
The muscle strength in the children's arms and legs was assessed to determine whether the drug was effective.
After an average follow-up of seven months, the strength scores on a scale of 0-20 fell by 0.2 among the children who received the drug, and improved by 2.5 among those in the untreated group, the findings showed.
The study findings were published in the Nov. 9 online issue of the journal Neurology.
"The lack of an efficacy signal for the treatments for acute flaccid myelitis evaluated in this study emphasizes the need for development and prospective evaluation of more effective treatment and prevention strategies for this potentially devastating condition," study author Dr. Kevin Messacar, of Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, said in a journal news release.
Dr. Carlos Pardo-Villamizar, a neurological disease expert with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, told HealthDay News, "We need to pay attention to this, because the long-term consequences the children and their parents suffer is immense.
"You can't imagine the amount of suffering these kids have in their lives," he added.