Most states facing confirmed or possible cases of polio-like illness

Faith Castro
October 18, 2018

There are now 62 confirmed reports of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, an illness similar to polio, across 22 states in the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 62 cases have been confirmed in 22 states this year, and at least 65 additional illnesses in those states are being investigated.

According to the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Nancy Messonnier, 90 percent of AFM cases since 2014 have involved people 18 years and younger. In particular, the condition can cause weakness in the arms and legs along with loss of muscle tone and problems with reflexes. For example, 11 of the Colorado cases of AFM this year have tested positive for EV A71, a rare type of enterovirus not usually seen in the USA, rather in Asia and other parts of the world, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed cases in 22 states overall.

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Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it. But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said.

Because the disorder is rare - afflicting less than one in a million people - doctors weren't considering it initially, Hill said.

While AFM is not unique to the US, Messonnier said, "no one else has seen seasonal clustering every other year".

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Many local cases have been treated at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

On a Facebook page dedicated to the disease, one parent posted that her daughter was diagnosed with AFM four years ago after catching enterovirus.

At this point, health officials are not sure what causes AFM but say that it can occur after a viral infection, West Nile Virus and other illnesses.

Health officials said five kids in Maryland are believed to have contracted a virus this fall that has symptoms similar to polio.

Another potential cause of AFM is a type of enterovirus called EV D68, Todd said. No one finding can explain all the cases, she said. None have tested positive for poliovirus. We don't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or the reasons why they may be at higher risk. To date, no pathogen has been consistently detected in AFM patients.

The CDC is actively investigating and monitoring disease activity and recommends taking standard prevention measures such as hand-washing, protecting oneself from mosquito bites and staying up-to-date on vaccinations. It's a rare disease, but the CDC thought that they might glean more about the nature of the outbreak, as well as clues about how to contain it, by releasing a report to the public.

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