Polio-like illness among kids baffling doctors, scaring parents

Henrietta Brewer
October 19, 2018

The other case of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, occurred in August, and four others are under investigation in MA.

But researchers who have studied the muscle-weakening disease-called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)-most closely say they now have a good understanding of its primary cause, although they still do not know how to treat the condition or halt its progression.

Other possible cases are still under investigation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of 127 patients with symptoms of the disease this year.

Acute flaccid myelitis typically causes weakness in the arms and legs, but can affect other muscle groups. Some also experience facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, or slurred speech. The CDC has confirmed more than 60 cases across 22 states.

Robin Roberts of Richmond, Virginia, spoke with NBC News about the death of her 5-year-old son, Carter, last month after he became paralyzed from his nose down because of the illness in 2016.

"When these illnesses occur, it often means that the spread of the virus, the transmission of the virus, in the community is quite widespread and there probably are many persons, many children, affected just like when the flu comes to the community", Modlin said.

CDC officials say they haven't found the cause.

"We need to pay attention to this, because the long-term consequences the children and their parents suffer is huge", said Dr. Carlos Pardo-Villamizar, a neurological disease expert with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. From August 2014 to September 2018, 386 cases have been confirmed.

That's up from 22 people who were said to have it in 2015.

"This is actually a pretty dramatic disease".

"We have not been able to identify a cause for the majority of these cases", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Despite the recent spike in reported cases of AFM, Messonnier underscored that the disease is "incredibly rare" and has been diagnosed annually at a rate of less than one in a million since 2014.

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". Minnesota has seen seven cases in children this year alone.

The CDC says there are preventative measures people can take to reduce the risk of infections that could lead to AFM.

The Wisconsin Department of Health recommends frequently washing your hands, staying up to date on vaccinations and to stay home when sick.

What is acute flaccid myelitis?

"There is a lot we don't know about AFM", Messonnier told NPR in a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday.

Other reports by iNewsToday