CDC: 'Mystery illness' leaving dozens of children paralyzed

The increase in cases of AFM has alarmed public health officials because not all of the children affected fully recover

The increase in cases of AFM has alarmed public health officials because not all of the children affected fully

USA health officials on Tuesday reported a jump in cases of a rare paralyzing illness in children, and said it seems to be following an every-other-year pattern. It affects fewer than one in a million people each year across the country, the CDC estimates.

There is no specific treatment for the disorder, and long-term outcomes are unknown.

Although it is too early to understand how the current season compares to previous ones, she noted, the nation is "on track with what was seen in 2014 and 2016" and will probably have the same number of cases. Although the cause remains a mystery in the majority of cases, the 2014 jump coincided with "a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness among people caused by enterovirus D68", though it wasn't found in all patients, according to the CDC.

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. Officials will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases.

A spokesperson with DPH told 7News that one case has been confirmed in the Bay State, while officials investigate five others. So far, a common cause linking these illnesses has not been found.

However, officials have not been able to identify the cause of most of the AFM cases, or the reason for the spikes in 2014, 2016 and now 2018.

CNN has reported that this year, more than half of all US states have had confirmed or possible cases, including North and SC.

CDC officials say some possible suspected causes, like polio and West Nile virus, have been ruled out.

"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.

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

Some patients recover quickly, while others experience paralysis and require ongoing care.

But the agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk nor why they may be at higher risk.

"This is a mystery so far", Messonnier said, describing AFM as a "pretty dramatic disease", which preys on a child's nervous system.

The CDC has tested many different specimens from patients with this condition for a wide variety of pathogens, or germs, that can cause AFM. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues.

Parents can best protect their children from serious diseases by taking prevention steps, such as washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but doctors may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness.

So far, the CDC hasn't seen any geographic patterns based on reporting from states.

States are not required to provide this information to the CDC but have been voluntarily reporting their data.

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