Multiple cases of rare polio-like illness under investigation in North Carolina

Health experts have not been able to identify the cause of the illness in a majority of cases

This year's outbreak marks the third wave of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) to hit the United States since 2014, and this wave is on track to be the worst yet, experts say. More than 90% of cases are in patients 18 or younger, with an average age of 4 years old.

The surge has baffled health officials, who on Tuesday announced a change in the way the agency is counting cases. The symptoms tend to occur about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness. "And certainly after three cycles of this, when we've looked through all the normal agents, we're looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this", said Messonnier. "There is a lot we don't know about AFM, and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness".

The condition is not new, but the CDC said it saw an increase in cases beginning in 2014.

However, the department noted: "Every year many more people get the flu and get seriously ill". In 2017, one person died of AFM. Sixty-five suspected cases are being investigated.

The two cases this year were in the southern and southeastern parts of the state.

It attacks the nervous system, specifically the spinal area. Messonnier added that health officials are considering other potential causes, such as West Nile virus and environmental toxins, though none of the cases have involved them.

Two children in MA have contracted a serious, rare illness that causes muscle weakness and paralysis, according to the state's Department of Public Health. Maryland's first case was reported September 21.

Two cases of the disease - acute flaccid myelitis - have been confirmed in MA with another four cases under investigation.

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

AFM remains extremely rare, even with the recent increase.

"We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care". This year's AFM outbreak is gaining attention because there are 127 suspected cases so far. The benefit of seeking medical care is to attend to kids' symptoms, which can include respiratory failure, Science News reports, but there is now no cure for AFM.

Unlike for polio there is know vaccine for AFM
Camera Icon Unlike for polio there is know vaccine for

Lacking an established cause, health officials confirm cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.

Most of these patients are children.

Officials said they will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases.

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

Still, both stated because there isn't a clear picture of which children may be at risk for developing AFM, parents should be observant for any changes if their child should get sick.

States reporting suspected cases or cases under investigation are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington. CDC has tested every stool specimen from every AFM patient.

The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.

The illness affects the patient's spinal cord.

Dr. Leslie Benson, assistant director of Children's pediatric neuroimmunology program, said AFM patients show a wide spectrum of symptoms.

"Early intervention is definitely always helpful". Some children paralyzed by AFM have eventually regained their ability to walk, but need time.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, so far there has been one confirmed case in Ohio.




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