Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Mysterious paralyzing illness reported in 22 states — CDC

Melissa Porter | 17 October, 2018, 15:52

Most of the cases have been in children.

"Any weakness, including trouble swallowing, weakness of an extremity, especially in a child who has recently gone through signs of an infection, those would be the main red flags", said Sarah Hopkins.

"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. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has not been able to find the cause for the majority of the cases.

One child has died of the condition, called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

The long-term effects of the disease are also unknown.

Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system.

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. Maryland's first case was reported September 21.

The CDC urges parents to be aware of this illness and to seek medical care right away if family members develop sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs. Some patients recover completely, while others continue to struggle with muscle weakness.

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.

The CDC received information on 33 confirmed cases of AFM across 16 states in 2017, 149 cases in 39 states. Officials said it's too early to know whether the total cases for 2018 will surpass those previous years.

That's up from 22 people who were said to have it in 2015.

More broadly, she noted, "there is a lot we don't know about AFM". "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said.

In addition to viruses, potential causes may include environmental toxins and genetic disorders, according to the CDC, and it "can be hard to diagnose because it shares numerous same symptoms as other neurologic diseases".

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.

Still, officials saw an uptick in cases in 2014 and 2016, with peaks around late summer and fall. Officials will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

The CDC is actively investigating and monitoring disease activity and recommends taking standard prevention measures such as hand-washing, protecting oneself from mosquito bites and staying up-to-date on vaccinations. Some children paralyzed by AFM have eventually regained their ability to walk, but need time.

CNN reached out to health departments in every state; 48 states responded, plus the District of Columbia.

Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Wm.

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