Health Care

Most states facing confirmed or possible cases of polio-like illness

Most states facing confirmed or possible cases of polio-like illness

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is warning about a rare mysterious illness affecting American children, which can cause "polio-like" symptoms. The CDC has been monitoring an increase in cases since 2014 and on Tuesday reported that it has confirmed 386 instances of AFM across the country over the last four years, a lot of them involving children.

While there have been cases of AFM in other countries, the particular pattern of seasonal outbreaks has only been recorded in the United States, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Tuesday.

Symptoms include the sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and the loss of muscle tone and reflexes. The disease is being called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and although researchers suspect that it's caused by a virus, no virus has yet been discovered that's associated with the condition.

The average age of children is about 4, she said, and 90 percent of cases the CDC has been studying since 2014 have involved children 18 or younger. Another spike came in 2016. The highest number of cases took place in 2016, when 149 were reported cases in 39 states.

Asked about the discrepancy between the CDC's report of 22 states versus CNN's report of 30 states with cases, Messonnier said, "the 22 states that we're reporting are the states that have confirmed cases".

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Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it. But Messonnier cautioned that it would be "premature" to be confident that this year will be the same as the earlier years.

The overall rate of AFM is fewer than one in a million, she said.

The long-term effects are not known, and outcomes have been different for patients, with some recovering quickly and others having lasting paralysis and requiring ongoing care. But she stressed that despite the increase in cases, the illness is still very rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in a million people in the USA each year.

The condition remains very rare.

At this point, health officials are not sure what causes AFM but say that it can occur after a viral infection, West Nile Virus and other illnesses.

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Another potential cause of AFM is a type of enterovirus called EV D68, Todd said.

Although some AFM patients tested positive for an enterovirus, indicating a possible link, not all had the virus.

The disorder has been diagnosed in unvaccinated children and also in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations, she said. We don't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or the reasons why they may be at higher risk. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid. But, if their child is diagnosed, parents should prepare for extensive physical therapy - therapy that isn't always covered by insurance, he said.

Other states with cases included Colorado, Illinois and Washington.

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