Parents of 14-year-old Liam Kelly can vouch that children do indeed get multiple sclerosis (MS). Liam has been suffering from the disorder for ten years now.
It started when the boy was four. All of a sudden his body became sore to the touch and then , he was unable to walk. In spite of this it was not until another year and relapse before he was diagnosed with MS.
"We went to the hospital and he was just screaming if anyone touched him. "The doctors said they did not know what it was", recalls his father John. "I was horrified when I first got the diagnosis. I thought he was going to die, I thought it was final. "People say 'children don't get MS', but I am sorry they do", says John.
It was to bring this fact to light that the MS Society held a conference this month having 60 experts and families with children affected by MS.
Liam was one of the first of his age group to be tried with new drug Tysabri . This was recently approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) . It is thought to help slow the progression of MS. Liam is currently in good shape , at least for now. "No-one know what the future holds for Liam," says John.
Usually MS is diagnosed in adults aged between 20 and 40 . According to experts, women are three times more likely to be diagnosed than men. Recent studies suggest as many as 9,000 people having the condition could have started showing symptoms when younger than 16.
Evangeline Wassmer, a consultant pediatric neurologist at Birmingham Children's Hospital, emphasizes the importance of starting treatment as early as possible. "It is important to make an early diagnosis and initiate treatment so that these children can benefit from early treatment and an improved quality of life", she says.
According to Jayne Spink, director of policy and research at the MS Society, there are potentially thousands of children living with MS whose symptoms are not being recognized.
"Without better awareness of childhood MS these children could face years of care that fails to meet their needs, while their families are left in limbo. "In MS, early treatment improves your long-term prospects. It is vital that children with MS are not left out in the cold", she says.