CDC expresses concern over mysterious surge in polio-like paralysis cases

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There are now five possible cases of a polio-like illness in Maryland, health officials confirm.

The agency said 127 cases of acute flaccid myelitis have been reported so far in 2018.

The MDH says the case is now being reviewed, and did not provide information regarding where in the state this particular case was diagnosed, or whether or not the child is in the hospital.

CDC officials added that while they have not seen any geographical clustering, they have seen seasonal clustering, with most cases occurring in the late summer and fall, dating back to when the CDC first noticed an uptick in the illness in 2014. Outbreaks are most common from August to October, and over 90 percent of the cases have involved children under 18 years old, with the average age of those inflicted standing at just 4 years old.

"This is a mystery so far", the CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said in a call Tuesday with reporters.

CDC began tracking the condition in 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases. Another spike came in 2016. "There is a lot we don't know about AFM, and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness".

Messonnier said the CDC has definitively ruled out polio - which causes a similar set of symptoms - as the cause. But officials haven't been able to find a single agent that would explain the clusters of cases that occur around the same time.

AFM is a condition in which the gray matter of the spinal cord becomes damaged, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis in one or multiple limbs. Other symptoms include facial drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.

Once diagnosed, some patients have recovered quickly, but some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care, Messonnier said. "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said. There has been one AFM-related death, which happened in 2017. Still, if a child experiences sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in their arms or legs, parents should seek medical care right away, she said.

Rathore said since its unclear what causes AFM, there is no treatment - it has to take its course on its own. 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 agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing this condition or the reasons they may be at higher risk. In 2016, there were 149 cases.

Parents can best protect their children from serious diseases by taking prevention steps, like washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines, and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites, she said.

States are reporting their cases to the CDC, Messonnier said.

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