CDC: 'Mystery illness' leaving dozens of children paralyzed

Grant Boone
October 18, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there have been 62 cases of the rare polio-like condition acute flaccid myelitis, also known as AFM, this year.

According to the CDC, the number of patients with AFM symptoms increases each year in August and September. So far in 2018, there have been 62 confirmed cases of the disease, an increase from previous year. The illness mainly affects children. All told 386 cases of AFM have been confirmed since 2014, more than 90 percent in children younger than 18. In the CDC's health warning the organisation said at least 65 other patients are being assessed after they displayed symptoms of the malady.

There is no treatment specifically for AFM, but affected children can undergo physical and occupational therapy to maximize their strength and adapt to their limitations.

The cause of most of the AFM incidents is unknown, according to the CDC, as are the long-term effects.

"I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", she said.

Doctors diagnosed Aamira with AFM.

State health officials in Minnesota issued an alert to doctors this month after six children there were diagnosed with AFM. However, none of the USA patients tested positive for polio, and, according to Dr. Messonnier, none of this year's cases have been linked to West Nile virus.

Messonnier stressed that while she understands how frightening this situation is for parents, they should remember that the infections are, in fact, rare.

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None of the cases examined tested positive for poliovirus and it has been confirmed not to be a cause of these AFM cases. Similar waves of the same illness occurred in 2014 and 2016.

Still, because this is a "pretty dramatic disease", Messonnier said health officials want to raise awareness about the symptoms to make sure parents seek medical care immediately if their children show a sudden onset of weakness or loss of muscle tone in their arms and legs.

That's up from 22 people who were said to have it in 2015. Though AFM has not claimed any lives this year, there was one death in 2017.

"Early intervention is definitely always helpful".

Cases have been reported in 22 states, including some in our area.

While AFM is not unique to the US, Messonnier said, "no one else has seen seasonal clustering every other year". "You don't need an very bad lot of paralyzed children to make this an important problem".

The CDC is actively investigating the cases and working with healthcare providers as well as state and local health departments to spread the word about AFM. States are not required to provide this information to CDC, but they have been voluntarily reporting their data.

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