Polio-Like Illness Strikes 6 Children in Minnesota

Grant Boone
October 11, 2018

This is very alarming as it is usually seen in only one case per year in that state. A 2-year-old girl was recently diagnosed in the Chicago area, and UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh confirmed that three children are now being treated for AFM at their facility.

The MDH has contacted doctors in the area to be on the lookout for similar cases, as local disease investigators are working aggressively to gather more information.

The agency is also warning parents to be vigilant about protecting kids from mosquito bites because of the possible connection between West Nile virus and AFM.

Messacar said it's important is for parents to seek immediate medical help if their child shows symptoms of weakness in the muscles of the face or throat. "The patients are now undergoing diagnostic procedures and treatment", the hospital said in a statement to Pittsburgh's Channel 11. Symptoms include weakness, loss of muscle tone, facial droop, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and in severe cases, paralysis.

The children have acute flaccid myelitis or AFM, a weakening of the nerves that resembles polio. Instead, doctors just focus on alleviating symptoms as best they can. The number of AFM cases seems to spike every other year, with 149 reported in 2016, 22 reported in 2015, and 120 in 2014. "This condition is not new, but the increase in cases we saw starting in 2014 is new".

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said as of Sep 30, there have been 38 cases reported from 16 states.

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All of the Minnesota cases have been in children younger than 10 and all were hospitalized.

Kris Ehresmann with the Minnesota Department of Health told CBS News that the chances of a child getting AFM are "about one in a million". While the CDC says they do not know the cause of most cases of AFM, they do know that Poliovirus and West Nile virus can sometimes lead to AFM.

The other viruses such as EV-D68 and EV-A71 cause much milder disease or no symptoms at all.

Because AFM can develop from a viral infection, the Minnesota health department recommends that families follow "basic steps" to avoid those infections, including by washing hands, staying home if you're sick and covering your coughs and sneezes.

"If a parent notices a child with a weak or paralyzed limb, they should go to urgent care or the hospital immediately", said Julie Graham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.

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