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

Polio-like illness affecting children across the country

Polio-like illness affecting children across the country

Most cases of weakness and paralysis have been in children.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating whether these children are infected with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare neurological illness. More than 90 percent of the cases reported so far are people under 18 years of age.

Messonnier stressed the rarity of the condition, emphasizing that it happens in fewer than one in a million children in the U.S. So far this year, cases have been confirmed in 22 states, based on findings from MRI studies and the cluster of symptoms a child has.

The long-term effects of the disease are also unknown.

"AFM is a rare, but serious condition that affects the nervous system".

In some cases children have recovered, but in others the paralysis has lingered. Officials have been unable to determine why the spikes are coming in waves.

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"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned about AFM", she said. Messonnier added that health officials are considering other potential causes, such as West Nile virus and environmental toxins, though none of the cases have involved them.

Symptoms tend to occur about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness.

The increase in cases appeared to begin in 2014, when the CDC started tracking the illness. Officials said it's too early to know whether the total cases for 2018 will surpass those previous years.

"This is actually a pretty dramatic disease", Messonnier told reporters on Tuesday.

"As a parent myself, I understand what it is like to be scared for your child". Doctors at Children's have not seen an AFM patient needing a ventilator this year, but have treated such cases in the past, Benson said.

"Most of the cases that CDC has learned about have been in children", said the CDC.

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"We know this can be frightening for parents", Messonnier said.

It's a debilitating, mystery illness.and it's spreading.

But the agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk nor why they may be at higher risk.

Because the symptoms are similar, AFM is often confused with polio, a crippling and potentially fatal disease that is caused by a virus. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant. Numbers dropped drastically in 2015 and 2017 - to 22 and 33, respectively - but were back up again in 2016 at 149. 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 USA, rather in Asia and other parts of the world, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

On Monday, CNN reached out to health departments in every state and received responses from 48 states plus the District of Columbia.

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