Published: Thu, October 18, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

U.S. doctors baffled as rare spinal disease spreads across 22 states


CNN reached out to several health departments across the country, including IL, which reported 10 cases of AFM.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 62 cases of a polio-like illness that causes weakness in the legs and arms. Health officials aren't sure, and they have given no concrete information as to why the illness seems to peak in the late summer and fall.

According to the CDC, there's been a mild uptick in the number of AFM cases in the country since 2014. AFM is extremely rare, but if your child shows any symptoms, take them to a doctor immediately.

At least 65 more cases are under investigation, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The increase in cases has been happening since 2014, with the number of cases spiking in August and September, she said in a news briefing with reporters.

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"Despite extensive laboratory testing, we have not determined what pathogen or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis in most patients", Messonnier added. And though enteroviruses have been detected in some paralysis cases, it hasn't been found in others, CDC officials say.

Symptoms of AFM include neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop, and difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a syndrome characterized by rapid onset of flaccid weakness in one or more limbs.

Messonnier said the CDC has definitively ruled out polio - which causes a similar set of symptoms - as the cause.

MA has seen a total of 16 confirmed cases in children since 2014, plus one probable case in an adult.

Polio-like illness affecting children across the country
The agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing this condition or the reasons they may be at higher risk. Laura Popper said. "Parents need to know that AFM is rare even with the increase in cases we are seeing now".


So far, viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders are all possible causes for the spike.

The Douglas County Health Department's Phil Rooney said, "This is not a diagnosis like flu or other diseases where you can do blood draw fluids".

Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist who has treated children with AFM at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, said AFM is "exquisitely rare". "As we work to better understand what is causing AFM, parents can help protect their children from serious diseases by following prevention steps like washing our hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites".

"My husband that noticed her arm was kind of just hanging there", her mother, Carlene, said.

AFM appears to target children at around age 4. CDC has tested every stool specimen from every AFM patient.

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"We want to see that education", he said, "in order to have early recognition and detection".

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