Health Care

Mysterious paralyzing illness found among kids in 22 states

Mysterious paralyzing illness found among kids in 22 states”

The average age of the patients in all confirmed cases over the past five years is just 4 years old, and more than 90% of the cases overall occur in children 18 and younger, according to analysis of cases reported in recent years.

A sharp spike in cases of pediatric acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is raising red flags with health officials, who despite concerted efforts, haven't identified a cause.

So far, the CDC has found no relationship between vaccines and children diagnosed with AFM from the 2014 cases.

Across the US there were 38 confirmed cases in 16 states this year through September 30, according to the CDC.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a teleconference call with reporters. It is a rare, but serious condition - fewer than one in a million Americans will get AFM every year, the CDC estimates.

The spikes were significantly higher in 2014, 2016 and 2018-to-date than in 2015 or 2017.

Data collected since the establishment of standardized surveillance helped with the identification of another increase in reports nationally during 2016 and has provided additional valuable information on the clinical presentation to help better characterize the clinical features, epidemiology, and short-term outcomes of cases of AFM.

And despite the resemblance to polio, officials have ruled out poliovirus as a cause of the illnesses. Another kind of virus was found in only some of the cases.

AFM is a rare condition that affects the nervous system, causing muscle weakness. Symptoms are sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty moving facial muscles, slurred speech and trouble swallowing. 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. What happens to patients down the line is unclear; some recover quickly, while others may need long-term care.

Parents have reported that the limbs of affected children appear lifeless.

There have been no confirmed cases of AFM in Maine this year, according to Emily Spencer, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine CDC.

For example, the CDC doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or why some are at higher risk, she said. The disease is being called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and although researchers suspect that it's caused by a virus, no virus has yet been discovered that's associated with the condition.

More broadly, she noted, "there is a lot we don't know about AFM".

About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

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

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