Published: Thu, October 18, 2018
Medicine | By Debra Reynolds

Maryland Health Officials Confirm 5 Possible Cases Of Polio-Like Illness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 62 cases in 22 states this year.

The CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues. "Most AFM cases occur in the late summer and fall", which she referred to as "seasonal clustering".

Specifically, the disease affects the area of the spinal cord called gray matter.

Standardized surveillance was established in 2015 to monitor this illness and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence.

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More than 120 confirmed or possible cases are under investigation nationwide, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of AFM are similar to polio. While she can't predict how 2018 will turn out, Messonnier said that the number of cases so far this year seems to be in line with the previous two waves in 2014 and 2016.

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

Since officials have been unable so far to determine how the disease spreads, they are starting to count suspected cases as well as confirmed to better anticipate increases in confirmed cases over the coming months, she said. But some state health departments, such as Minnesota's, have reported the numbers.

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"Despite a lot of investigation by CDC and our partners, AFM remains a mystery disease", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the CDC. There has been one AFM-related death, which happened in 2017.

The rare disease, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis. That pattern appears to be repeating this year. But officials haven't been able to find a single agent that would explain the clusters of cases that occur around the same time.

The peculiar illness causes weakness in the limbs, loss of muscle tone, and may also result in neck pain, headache, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and in the worst of cases, respiratory failure. Scientists are investigating a number of causes, including viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders, the CDC said on its website. "None of the specimens have tested positive for poliovirus". And though enteroviruses have been detected in some paralysis cases, it hasn't been found in others, CDC officials say. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now".

The disorder has been diagnosed in unvaccinated children and also in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations, she said. The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger. The public health agency also does not fully understand long-term consequences or why some patients recover quickly while others continue to experience weakness.

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The CDC said it doesn't know how long symptoms of the disease will last for patients.

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