Published: Fri, October 12, 2018
Medical | By Vernon Walton

Rare, polio-like disease affecting children in United States, says CDC

Rare, polio-like disease affecting children in United States, says CDC

A child is being examined at Oishei Children's Hospital for what their parent suspects is a case of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a condition affecting the nervous system that causes the body's muscles and reflexes to become weak.

"It is very rare and it is certainly something we're taking very seriously", said Kris Ehresmann, who directs the Health Department's infectious disease section.

The Centers for Disease and Control said AFM has afflicted only 362 people nationwide in the past four years. Fourteen cases have been reported in Colorado and six in Minnesota, majority children. The causes of AFM vary from viruses to environmental toxins to genetic disorders, according to the health department.

Minnesota typically sees, at most, one case of acute flaccid myelitis a year, so it's concerning that such a large group has presented with the illness at the same time. All of the cases have been reported on the west side of the state with two children in King County and one child in Pierce County, Lewis County and Snohomish County.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that six children under 10 had been diagnosed AFM since mid-September.

More and more cases of a rare polio-like illness are being reported across the country, according to news reports.

Since August 2014, CDC has seen an increased number of people across the United States with AFM.

In 2016, there were nine cases of AFM in Washington and three in 2017.

For example, a neurologist may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness. Other symptoms are neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing or slurred speech. Polio is the most significant disease caused by an enterovirus.

The disease is known to hit the nervous system by traveling through the spinal cord. However, the 2014 cases coincided with a national outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a virus called enterovirus D68. Some people may be unable to urinate, and, in severe cases, a person can suffer respiratory failure and must be put on a ventilator. The CDC also advises washing hands with soap and water and covering your cough or sneeze, standard practices to reduce the spread of germs.

"Not because it's happening more it's just that we're recognizing it more", Dr. Esper says. Symptoms are similar to complications from other viruses such as the West Nile Virus or the poliovirus. The viruses that are accounted to cause AFM may be contagious from one person to another or may be spread by a mosquito or other vector depending on which virus causes the AFM.

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