CDC, partners probe 127 polio-like cases in 22 states

Henrietta Brewer
October 17, 2018

This year, more than half of all U.S. states have had confirmed or possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like illness that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children, according to an exclusive CNN analysis.

Health officials in 22 states have reported at least 62 confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis in 2018 so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC officials say some possible suspected causes, like polio and West Nile virus, have been ruled out.

In total, CNN found 47 confirmed cases and 49 more that were suspected or being investigated, for a total of 96.

The condition is not new, but officials started to see a rise in cases in 2014; and there was another spike in 2016.


In addition to viruses, potential causes may include environmental toxins and genetic disorders, according to the CDC, and it "can be hard to diagnose because it shares numerous same symptoms as other neurologic diseases".

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", she said.

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. The first case in Maryland this year was contracted September 21, a spokeswoman for the department said in an email. What happens to patients down the line is unclear; some recover quickly, while others may need long-term care. But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said. The agency had a teleconference with health providers slated for later today, and it provided a toolkit for diagnosing AFM, along with instructions for reporting suspected cases.

That's when we spoke with the families of 4-year-old Camdyn Carr, who's now fighting the disease, and 7-year-old Sebastian Bottomley, who previously fought AFM.

Possible causes being considered include viruses that affect the digestive system called enteroviruses, and possibly strains of rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, she said. Numbers dropped drastically in 2015 and 2017 - to 22 and 33, respectively - but were back up again in 2016 at 149. "We just don't know enough". Health officials are alarmed and frustrated, because a specific cause hasn't been identified.


"We know this can be frightening for parents", Messonnier said. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

Parents can best protect their children from serious diseases by taking prevention steps, such as washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites.

About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014.

The CDC referred calls to individual state health departments.


Other reports by iNewsToday

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