Rare health threat captures attention in the heartland

Case Of Polio-Like Illness Acute Flaccid Myelitis Confirmed In Mass.

Case Of Polio-Like Illness Acute Flaccid Myelitis Confirmed In Mass.

This year, more than half of all U.S. states have had confirmed or possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like illness that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children, according to an exclusive CNN analysis.

More than 120 confirmed or possible cases of the mysterious and rare condition have been documented so far this year, mostly since August, a top federal health official said Tuesday.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, updated the media and public via a conference call on Tuesday. "We want to encourage parents to seek medical care right away if you or your child develops symptoms of AFM, such as sudden weakness and loss of muscle tone in your arms or legs". We thought a few years ago that we knew what particular infection it was, but then as we got more and more information, it was clear that we really do not know what the etiological agent is - we don't know what causes it.

As many as 127 confirmed or suspected cases of the disease have been identified this year across a region that includes 22 different states. Although it is too early to understand how the current season compares to previous ones, she noted, the nation is "on track with what was seen in 2014 and 2016" and will probably have the same number of cases.

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".

"What we have been told is that he's the best case scenario of a hard situation", she said.

Some patients diagnosed with this condition have recovered quickly but others continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care, she said.

Doctors say the most serious cases can lead to respiratory failure.

AFM is still extremely rare. The CDC says an outbreak in 2014 seemed to coincide with an outbreak of enterovirus D68, however the virus wasn't found in every AFM patient. Some patients have tested positive for enterovirus or rhinovirus. The illness has been compared to the polio and West Nile viruses.

But the agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk nor why they may be at higher risk. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for AFM, though the CDC says neurologists may suggest options on a case-by-case basis.

AFM appears to target children at around age 4.

Parents can best protect their children from serious diseases by taking prevention steps, such as washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites. It could be potentially deadly if the diaphragm is paralyzed because the child would be unable to breathe.

So far, the CDC hasn't seen any geographic patterns based on reporting from states. But some states have previously announced clusters, including Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, New York and Washington.

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