CDC Warns Of Polio-Like Mystery Illness That's Paralyzing Kids

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating whether these children are infected with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare neurological illness.

Health officials Arkansas and Oklahoma say a rare illness that's being compared to polio may have reached the states as it spreads across the U.S.

At a press briefing Tuesday, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said, "We want to encourage parents to seek medical care right away if you or your child develops symptoms of AFM, such as sudden weakness and loss of muscle tone in your arms or legs".

There is now no cure for AFM, known cause in most cases, or clear explanation for why some people who contract the enterovirus experience symptoms and others do not.

To give parents, healthcare workers, and public health officials a look at what to expect, she said the CDC will report suspected cases this year, as well as confirmed ones. Another spike came in 2016. The agency had a teleconference with health providers slated for later today, and it provided a toolkit for diagnosing AFM, along with instructions for reporting suspected cases. But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said.

"Overall, the rate of AFM over the years that it has been diagnosed which is since 2014 is less than one in a million."

"It attacked [my child's] body and her spinal cord a certain way that seems to be happening to other kids too", said Josh Payne, the parent of a child battling AFM.

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In total, CNN found 47 confirmed cases and 49 more that were suspected or being investigated, for a total of 96. CDC has tested every stool specimen from every AFM patient.

Messonnier also said none of this year's cases have been linked to West Nile virus. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

There is no specific treatment for AFM.

Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist who has treated children with AFM at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, said AFM is "exquisitely rare". These include washing one's hands very carefully and frequently, keeping children up to date on their vaccines, avoiding people who are sneezing or coughing and generally trying to live in a healthy way. "And he's had a lot of support at school with physical therapy". Some children paralyzed by AFM have eventually regained their ability to walk, but need time.

The following year, there were 22 confirmed cases in 17 states, and 2016 saw 149 cases in 39 jurisdictions, including D.C. In 2017 there were 33 confirmed cases in 16 states.

The CDC referred calls to individual state health departments.

The CDC is not saying how many states have patients under investigation, only that it's more than 22.

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