Rare, polio-like disease affecting children in USA, says CDC

Simon Moss
October 12, 2018

DFLers Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging it to look into recent cases of AFM, a nervous system condition that weakens victim's muscles and causing other symptoms similar to polio. The condition affects the gray matter area of the spinal cord and causes weakness in the body's muscles and reflexes.

The CDC says there have been a total of 362 cases nationally between August 2014 and August 2018, with 38 confirmed cases so far this year.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it has confirmed 14 cases of acute flaccid myelitis this year. In severe cases, children might have trouble breathing and need a ventilator because of muscle weakness.

All six were under the age of 10 and reported weakness and paralysis in the arms and legs. A 2014 uptick in the number of cases coincided with the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by eneterovirus D68.

The rare condition can be caused by a virus, a genetic disorder and environmental toxins.

Despite the increase, the condition is still considered very rare, occurring in fewer than one in a million people in the USA each year.

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"Of the AFM cases, 11 tested positive for enterovirus A71, one tested positive for enterovirus D68, and two tested negative for enteroviruses", the department said in an online statement Tuesday. A medical report detailing the case of a 12-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with AFM noted that caring for patients with AFM often means involving an infectious disease physician, a neurologist, an orthotist, physical therapist and a speech therapist. Children have been attacked by this disease since September mid. While AFM doesn't have a cure, the symptoms can be treated and in most cases death can be avoided.

The family has felt helpless these past few weeks, dealing with a disease doctors know very little about, but thanks to other families, who are going through the same condition they are, they're now feeling better about their situation. Doctors stress that the early signs of AFM should be recognized and treatment should be started as soon as possible to prevent from severity of disease.

Health officials are warning parents to be on the lookout for symptoms.

You can protect against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).

"We think that in some cases, there might be a virus or some pathogen that you are initially infected with", Kenyon said.

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