Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

CDC expresses concern over mysterious surge in polio-like paralysis cases

Melissa Porter | 17 October, 2018, 03:05

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

Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has been unable to find the cause for the majority of the cases. Messonnier said West Nile virus, which had been listed as a possible cause on the CDC's website, is not causing the illnesses.

Federal health officials released the updated numbers on Tuesday, and said they still had no idea what was causing the spike in AFM cases or why kids were getting it in the first place. Specifically, the disease affects the area of the spinal cord called gray matter.

The CDC began tracking the condition in 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases.

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. But she stressed that despite the increase in cases, the illness is still very rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in a million people in the US each year. CDC has tested many different specimens from patients with this condition for a wide range of pathogens, or germs, that can cause AFM.

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. "And certainly after three cycles of this, when we've looked through all the normal agents, we're looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this", said Messonnier.

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

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

On Monday, CNN reached out to health departments in every state and received responses from 48 states plus the District of Columbia.

Lacking an established cause, health officials confirm cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.

About 90 percent of the cases are children who have suffered muscle weakness or paralysis. "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said.

The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.

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.