Mysterious Polio-like Disorder Striking Children Around US Growing

Mysterious Polio-like Disorder Striking Children Around US Growing

The Department of Public Health has confirmed the second MA case this year of a rare but potentially devastating illness that strikes mostly children and causes muscle weakness or paralysis.

The CDC says pediatric acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is now affecting young children in 22 states following a recent spike in Minnesota.

A sharp spike in cases of pediatric acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is raising red flags with health officials, who despite concerted efforts, haven't identified a cause.

From August 2014 through September 2018, the CDC received information on a total of 386 confirmed cases of AFM across the country.

CNN has reported that this year, more than half of all US states have had confirmed or possible cases, including North and SC.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, updated the media and public via a conference call on Tuesday. CDC experts say the overall rate of AFM is about one in a one million.

In 2014, a large AFM epidemic coincided with a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), but in-depth testing of patient samples hasn't consistently found a common cause.

Messonnier said that of the cases confirmed this year, none have been related to the polio virus or West Nile virus.

Some victims have been infected with viruses, but researchers have been unable to identify a single virus responsible for all cases.

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Acute flaccid myelitis, also called AFM, is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system, with a particular focus on the gray matter of the spinal cord. Some patients will also experience facial weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or slurred speech.

The other case of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, occurred in August, and four others are under investigation in MA. For example, 11 of the Colorado cases of AFM this year have tested positive for EV A71, a rare type of enterovirus not usually seen in the U.S., rather in Asia and other parts of the world, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. One child with the disorder died in 2017.

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said.

Although symptoms resemble polio, no evidence of poliovirus has been found in specimens from any case diagnosed so far, Messonnier said.

Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it. Then in 2016, there were 149 confirmed cases.

But Messonnier said that, in general, parents can help protect their children from diseases by washing their hands, making sure their children are up to date with vaccinations and applying insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites, which can spread viruses.

"The majority of these patients are left with extensive problems", said Pardo-Villamizar, who was not involved in the study.

CNN reached out to health departments in every state; 48 states responded, plus the District of Columbia.

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