Mysterious paralyzing illness reported in 22 states — CDC

Faith Castro
October 19, 2018

Acute flaccid myelitis, also called AFM, is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system, with a particular focus on the gray matter of the spinal cord.

What happened: So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 62 cases of acute flaccid myelitis and plans to investigate 65 more.

US health officials on Tuesday reported a jump in cases of a rare paralyzing illness in children, and said it seems to be following an every-other-year pattern.

Although the disease appears to target a certain age group, federal disease experts do not know who is likely to get acute flaccid myelitis.

"You see your child, who likes to run and play", she said.

The spikes were significantly higher in 2014, 2016 and 2018-to-date than in 2015 or 2017.

The affected have reportedly ranged in age from 18 to 4-years-old.

Boston Children's Hospital has evaluated all of the confirmed and suspected AFM cases that occurred in MA this year. Although the cause remains a mystery in the majority of cases, the 2014 jump coincided with "a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness among people caused by enterovirus D68", though it wasn't found in all patients, according to the CDC.

"This is truly a mystery disease", Messonnier told CBS News. Other symptoms include: facial droop/weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, or difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

Health officials do not know what's causing the increasing number of cases of AFM.

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This year's numbers are similar to 2016 and 2014.

He says while the preceding illness may be a virus, there's no need to rush your child to a doctor just because they have a cold.

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

WATCH: Six children from Minnesota have been diagnosed with a rare condition that causes weakness or even paralysis in the arms and legs.

The cases this year seem to be spread across much of the country, as were the earlier two waves. Also, she said there can be lags in reporting because of the time it takes to review a patient's clinical syndrome and radiographic findings.

In an email Tuesday, Maryland Department of Health spokeswoman Brittany Fowler said the CDC will "make a determination about the status of the cases" in Maryland "based on clinical and laboratory information".

After testing patients' stool specimens, the CDC determined poliovirus is not the cause of the AFM cases. Nor can they explain why only a handful of infected children developed AFM.

"We don't fully understand the long-term consequences of AFM", Ms Messonnier said.

Depending on which part of the spine is damaged, different muscles can become weak or paralyzed.

These symptoms are similar to the poliovirus (which was eliminated in the United States in 1979 after a successful national vaccination program) as well as non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and the West Nile virus.

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