CDC Confirms Rare Polio-Like Virus Acute Flaccid Myelitis in 22 States

Pearl Mccarthy
October 18, 2018

Officials said three cases of acute flaccid myelitis have been reported in North Carolina this year - two probable and one confirmed.

More than 90 percent of the cases are in children 18 years and younger.

The CDC is investigating over 100 possible cases of the disease.

Symptoms of AFM include sudden limb weakness, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, facial and eyelid drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech, the CDC said. From August 2014 through September 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received information on a total of 386 confirmed cases of AFM across the USA; most of the cases have occurred in children.

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", she said. "There is a lot we don't know about AFM, and I'm frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness".

Scientists at the University of Colorado School of Medicine infected mice with a virus that was circulating during the 2014 AFM outbreak as well as during similar spikes of the disease in 2016 and this year.

According to the CDC 127 people are believed to be sick with the illness. In 2017, one person died of AFM.

Health experts are working to gather information on the North Dakota case, but confirmation could take weeks. "The data we are reporting today is a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", she said. Additionally, it doesn't know what long-term effects of the illness could look like.

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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. Officials say this is not considered a public health threat, so they will not release which part of the state the case was confirmed in, or any other details.

Maryland health officials said their first case was reported to them September 21. The disease, called acute flaccid myelitis, targets the nervous system, most often in children.

AFM grabbed attention in 2014, when 120 cases were reported nationally. The CDC says an outbreak in 2014 seemed to coincide with an outbreak of enterovirus D68, however the virus wasn't found in every AFM patient.

We don't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or the reasons why they may be at higher risk.

"This is a mystery so far", the CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said in a call Tuesday with reporters.

Health officials don't have an exact cause of AFM. "Most AFM cases occur in the late summer and fall", which she referred to as "seasonal clustering". Doctors may also recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness. "We certainly don't want to alarm people because it's very rare, but at the same time, I believe it's something that's best to have checked out". To date, no pathogen has been consistently detected in AFM patients.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but treatments that have been tried include immunoglobulin replacement therapy, corticosteroids, plasma exchange and antiviral therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health. The average age of affected patients is just four.

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