Polio-like illness causing paralysis in children reaches the Carolinas

Desiree Burns
October 17, 2018

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

Today, federal health officials expressed worry about an uptick in acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a mysterious and rare condition mostly affecting children.

It shows distinct abnormalities of the spinal cord gray matter on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

MA has a confirmed case of a polio-like illness that is being reported across the country.

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

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. Though AFM has not claimed any lives this year, there was one death in 2017.

"Despite a lot of investigation by CDC and our partners, AFM remains a mystery disease", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the CDC. More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and under, with the average age being 4 years old. No geographic clustering has been found and there is no other "unifying factor to explain the peaks", she added. "We actually don't know what is causing this increase".

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", she said.

The CDC will determine whether the suspected cases in Maryland are AFM based on clinical information and lab tests, a spokeswoman for the state health department said in an email. Some patients have tested positive for enterovirus or rhinovirus.

Messonnier said that of the cases confirmed this year, none have been related to the polio virus or West Nile virus. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now".

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Once diagnosed, some patients have recovered quickly, but some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care, Messonnier said.

CNN reached out to health departments in every state; 48 states responded, plus the District of Columbia. Of those, 30 states said they had cases that were confirmed, suspected or being investigated - including 15 states that said they had confirmed cases in 2018.

Officials said they will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases. "There's going to be a delay, a lag in the timing of some of these reports".

The CDC is not saying how many states have patients under investigation, only that it's more than 22.

The most severe symptom is respiratory failure.

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.

In 2014 the CDC said there was a spike in the AFM virus, with 120 people afflicted with it from August to December of that year in 34 states.

A doctor is pictured with a patient in this undated stock photo. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms and legs".

The CDC has not traced the virus to a specific germ, but the agency said it has a variety of causes including viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders.

Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist who has treated children with AFM at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, said AFM is "exquisitely rare".

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