Health Care

CDC Investigating Increase in Polio-like Illness Reported Throughout the United States

CDC Investigating Increase in Polio-like Illness Reported Throughout the United States

Since then, Patterson, chairman of the division of Child and Adolescent Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, has seen several children diagnosed with what's come to be called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, a very rare disease that causes nerve-damaging inflammation in the gray matter of the spinal cord. Norton Healthcare has seen three, including a local patient, another from IN and one from Kentucky but outside Louisville. Another resides in Louisville.

King's Daughters pediatrician Dr. Aaron McGuffin says the condition is getting more attention because of the severity of the symptoms.

AFM is not new, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started keeping track of it in 2014 when, for an unknown reason, there was a noticeable spike in the number of cases. The other two cases remained under investigation as of Thursday morning.

She spent a month at Cook Children's Hospital, in Fort Worth, on IV fluids and a feeding tube until her condition improved. One remains in stable condition at Norton.

The polio-like disease known as Acute Flaccid Myelitis or AFM is targeting children across the country, leaving health experts stumped and parents concerned.

"(Parents) should not panic", said Dr. Michael Sweeney, a neurologist at Norton Children's Hospital and the University of Louisville. "They need to be followed very carefully, because this is a very aggressive disease". "The depth of information that we have is helpful even if we do not have breadth of cases". So far this year, cases have been confirmed in 22 states, based on findings from MRI studies and the cluster of symptoms a child has. The health department is investigating such suspected cases of illness in 25 states.

Since 2014, there have been 386 confirmed AFM cases, overwhelmingly in patients under the age of 18.

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This year, the third outbreak of AFM is still underway.

The season for the illness, when it occurs, appears to be August, September, and October, Benson said. "And I'm frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we have not been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness".

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 CDC's Messonnier said, "We know this can be frightening for parents. We don't fully understand the long-term consequences of AFM", Messonnier said.

Patients are sometimes misdiagnosed with Transverse Myelitis or Guillain-Barre Syndrome and later diagnosed with AFM when they don't respond to standard treatments.

The vast majority of cases are in children, particularly young kids, Benson said. AFM can result from a series of viral infections and targets the spinal cord. The symptoms are also similar to non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and the West Nile virus. There are different possible causes for AFM such as viruses, genetic disorders or environmental factors. Pardo-Villamizar told HealthDay that most children who contract an enterovirus only suffer an upper-respiratory infection.

The increase in AFM cases in 2014 coincided with a national outbreak of a severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68. They also suggested that children stay up to date with their vaccines and practice good hand washing habits.


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