A Mysterious Disease That Leaves People Paralyzed Is Spreading Through The USA

Laverne Higgins
October 19, 2018

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating whether these children are infected with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare neurological illness.

AFM can arise after an infection and affects the nervous system, according to health officials. The CDC has been monitoring an increase in cases since 2014 and on Tuesday reported that it has confirmed 386 instances of AFM across the country over the last four years, majority involving children.

An analysis found the average age of the patients in confirmed cases over the past five years is 4 years old, and 90 percent occur in children 18 and younger. There were 120 confirmed cases in 2014 and 149 two years later.

Two cases of the disease - acute flaccid myelitis - have been confirmed in MA with another four cases under investigation. AFM mainly affects children, and symptoms include muscle weakness in the arms and legs, respiratory illness, neck weakness and stiffness, drooping eyelids, facial drooping, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech, the Health Department said.

Andrea Kunicky, spokesperson for UPMC Children's, declined to comment on any cases at the hospital.

"I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", she said.

CDC officials say they haven't found the cause.

As of Tuesday, October 16, the CDC has 62 confirmed cases of AFM throughout 22 states.

There is now no cure for AFM, known cause in most cases, or clear explanation for why some people who contract the enterovirus experience symptoms and others do not.

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The Ohio Department of Health says it can not release information about suspected cases, or where the disease was reported.

In some cases patients recover from the paralysis, but in others it continues.

According to the CDC, the most severe cases of AFM can lead to respiratory failure and even death.

Other states with cases included Colorado, Illinois and Washington. Outbreaks appear to follow an every-other-year pattern with another sharp rise in 2016, primarily in late summer and early fall.

She suspects that a host of factors play a role in the likelihood of getting AFM, but more cases must be reviewed in order to find an answer. However, experts say that initial indications from a small number of cases suggest a grim outlook. "The hallmark is sudden onset of weakness in the arms or the legs".

Adults can take preventative steps to protect children from illness as much as is possible - think: washing hands, using insect repellant, and staying up to date on vaccination programs. The CDC has stressed that the number of cases is rising.

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.

"As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said.

He says he has had very good outcomes in 14 of the 15 patients; the one girl who did not regain full function had "a suboptimal result, but [her parents are] happy she got something back".

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