CDC Investigates Cases Of Rare Neurological 'Mystery Illness' In Kids

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that officials are investigating a spike in acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) cases, mostly in children, that looks similar to increases they saw in the late summer and fall of 2014 and 2016, with 127 cases under investigation in 22 states. It's also important to note that the number of known or suspected cases is small, so the odds of contracting the illness are extremely low. Most of the cases involve children, officials said.

Acute flaccid myelitis affects the spinal cord and can cause partial paralysis.

More than 120 confirmed or possible cases are under investigation nationwide, according to the CDC.

Its symptoms are likened to those caused by polio, which was eradicated in the USA thanks to the polio vaccine.

The Minnesota Department of Health says a seventh child has been struck by a rare, paralyzing illness that has been reported across the country. In 2016, there were 149 cases. Messonnier said West Nile virus, which had been listed as a possible cause on CDC's website, is not causing the illnesses.

The CDC is actively investigating the cases and working with healthcare providers as well as state and local health departments to spread the word about AFM.

"We know this can be frightening for parents", Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press briefing on Tuesday. In 2017, one person died of AFM.

The CDC says the illness could be caused by viruses, environmental toxins, genetic disorders, or a condition in which the immune system attacks body tissues. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has been unable to find the cause for the majority of the cases.

Symptoms include arm and leg weakness, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, in addition to facial drooping or weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

The cause of most of the AFM incidents is unknown, according to the CDC, as are the long-term effects. None have tested positive for poliovirus. But that bug - enterovirus D68 - could not be definitively linked to the illnesses.

The outlook for patients with AFM can vary from a quick recovery to ongoing paralysis, Messonnier said.

Asked about the discrepancy between the CDC's report of 22 states versus CNN's report of 30 states with cases, Messonnier said, "the 22 states that we're reporting are the states that have confirmed cases. We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms and legs". Also, she said there can be lags in reporting because of the time it takes to review a patient's clinical syndrome and radiographic findings. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare even with the increase in cases we're seeing right now".

Although the disease appears to target a certain age group, federal disease experts do not know who is likely to get acute flaccid myelitis.

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