Published: Thu, October 18, 2018
Health Care | By Belinda Paul

Mysterious polio-like illness baffles medical experts while frightening parents


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed frustration and concern Tuesday about a puzzling surge in cases of polio-like paralysis, mostly in children, being reported across the country this year.

In total, CNN found 47 confirmed cases and 49 more that were suspected or being investigated, for a total of 96. Most of the cases have been in children.

Across the USA there were 38 confirmed cases in 16 states this year through September 30, according to the CDC.

Standardized surveillance was established in 2015 to monitor this illness and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence.

The CDC has been tracking cases of AFM since a noted spike in 2014.

"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", she said.

Acute flaccid myelitis can be caused by viruses, such as polio or West Nile.

20, the CDC had confirmed 38 cases in 16 states, which aren't required to report AFM cases to the CDC.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a teleconference call with reporters. In 2017, one person died of AFM. Sixty-two cases of the rare but serious condition have now been confirmed in 22 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It follows a peculiar seasonal pattern, with the highest incidence occurring every other year in late summer or fall.

After testing patients' stool specimens, the CDC determined poliovirus is not the cause of the AFM cases.

Acute flaccid myelitis, also called AFM, is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system and causes the muscles and reflexes to suddenly become weak, she said Tuesday. None have tested positive for poliovirus.

In research developments, a team based at the J. Craig Venter Institute conducted experiments to see if a specific EV-D68 genotype is linked to neurologic symptoms and found that some viruses from the 2014 outbreak can infect neuronal cells.

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

"Any weakness, including trouble swallowing, weakness of an extremity, especially in a child who has recently gone through signs of an infection, those would be the main red flags", said Sarah Hopkins. "We actually don't know what is causing this increase". The disorder has been diagnosed in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations and in unvaccinated children, she said.

People can protect themselves from contracting AFM using methods similar to preventing getting the flu, Ellerin said.

The CDC urges parents to be aware of this illness and to seek medical care right away if family members develop sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs.

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