Medicine

Cases of mysterious paralyzing illness reported in 22 states

Cases of mysterious paralyzing illness reported in 22 states

The CDC is reporting 127 patients are under investigation for acute flaccid myelitis or AFM. 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.

AFM affects a person's nervous system, according to the CDC website, mainly in the spinal cord, and can present polio-like symptoms, including weakness and pain in the arms and legs.

The condition is not new, but officials started to see a rise in cases in 2014; and there was another spike in 2016.

"We know this can be frightening for parents, and I know many parents want to know what signs and symptoms they should be looking out for in their children", Messonnier said.

In addition to viruses, potential causes may include environmental toxins and genetic disorders, according to the CDC, and it "can be hard to diagnose because it shares numerous same symptoms as other neurologic diseases".

The disease is extremely rare, with the CDC estimating that less than one in a million people in the United States will get AFM every year.

In an email Tuesday, Maryland Department of Health spokeswoman Brittany Fowler said the CDC will "make a determination about the status of the cases" in Maryland "based on clinical and laboratory information". Viruses that can cause the disease include poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses and West Nile virus.

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The number of cases in 2018 is on track to match a similar number of cases in 2014 and 2016.

Typical symptoms of AFM are similar to those of a severe respiratory illness, along with a fever, but those often progress into neurological symptoms.

"In most (AFM) cases, there appears to be what we call residual weakness, where the patient is unfortunately weak for a long period of time and may not recover or may not recover completely", said Dr. John Modlin, a Dartmouth College professor emeritus who is now the deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's effort to eradicate polio.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, according to the CDC, although neurologists might recommend things like physical therapy to help treat muscle weakness on a case-by-case basis.

To give parents, healthcare workers, and public health officials a look at what to expect, she said the CDC will report suspected cases this year, as well as confirmed ones. Several cases have been linked to enteroviruses or other germs, but officials have not been able to find a cause for the majority of the cases.

The condition remains very rare. PHAC is monitoring CDC updates, however, "We haven't found anything in Canada yet", said Dr. Tim Booth, director of the viral diseases division of Canada's National Microbiology Lab.

That's up from 22 people who were said to have it in 2015. But some states have previously announced clusters, including Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, New York and Washington. Symptom onset is generally quite sudden, and Messonnier urged parents to seek medical care quickly for children displaying these symptoms.


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