CDC: 'Mystery illness' leaving dozens of children paralyzed

Kenny Tucker
October 19, 2018

Health officials don't have an exact cause of AFM.

Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has not been able to find the cause for the majority of the cases. "And I'm frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we have not been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness". But that bug - enterovirus D68 - could not be definitively linked to the illnesses.

The number of cases in 2018 is on track to match a similar number of cases in 2014 and 2016.

Some children may have mild symptoms, but AFM doesn't just sneak up on its victims. But Messonnier cautioned that it would be "premature" to conclude that this year will be the same as the earlier years.

But mysteriously no other country has reported the emerging every-two-years pattern seen in the U.S., Messonnier said.

The long-term effects of the disease are also unknown.

Besides viruses, officials are also considering environmental toxins as a possible cause, but so far, they have no evidence that a particular toxin is behind the cases.

A recent CNN report found that 30 states were investigating 47 confirmed cases and another 49 suspected cases.

Pardo-Villamizar said, "We don't know if the virus is attacking directly the spinal cord, or if the immune response against the virus is producing the damage to the spinal cord".

"Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now", Messonnier said.

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The surge has baffled health officials, who on Tuesday announced a change in the way the agency is counting cases. AFM is an illness that affects the nervous system , specifically the area of spinal cord called gray matter .

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs.

And despite the resemblance to polio, officials have ruled out poliovirus as a cause of the illnesses. Limb paralysis caused by the illness can worsen quickly, so it's also important that individuals experiencing these symptoms receive prompt medical attention.

The CDC is not sure why there was a rise in cases of AFM in 2014.

"We are seeing more cases of this in the USA than we are seeing in polio in the whole world", University of Colorado neurologist Kenneth Tyler tells Science.

That's up from 22 people who were said to have it in 2015.

She recommended that parents take routine protections against viral infections, such as keeping up to date on immunizations, washing hands, and avoiding mosquito bites.

There is no known cause or treatment, a state Department of Public Health advisory said.

On a Facebook page dedicated to the disease, one parent posted that her daughter was diagnosed with AFM four years ago after catching enterovirus. "You don't need an very bad lot of paralyzed children to make this an important problem".

Extremely. According to the CDC, there were 38 confirmed cases in 16 states this year through September 30. Since that time, the CDC has requested that states report suspected cases.

States are reporting their cases to the CDC, Messonnier said.

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