Published: Wed, October 17, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Spike reported nationwide in cases of baffling paralysis in children

Spike reported nationwide in cases of baffling paralysis in children

Today, federal health officials expressed worry about an uptick in acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a mysterious and rare condition mostly affecting children.

She said the CDC and research partners are casting a wide net trying to figure out what is causing the rise in cases, suggesting scientists have been looking at a variety of viruses and even environmental toxins in their search. From August 2014 to September 2018, 386 cases have been confirmed.

The affected have reportedly ranged in age from 18 to 4-years-old.

"Despite a lot of investigation by CDC and our partners, AFM remains a mystery disease", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the CDC.

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

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

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", Messonnier admitted.

AFM affects a person's nervous system, according to the CDC website, mainly in the spinal cord, and can present polio-like symptoms, including weakness and pain in the arms and legs.

The peculiar illness causes weakness in the limbs, loss of muscle tone, and may also result in neck pain, headache, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and in the worst of cases, respiratory failure. In extreme cases, paralysis and death can occur. Officials said some patients diagnosed with AFM recover quickly, while others need ongoing care.

That's when we spoke with the families of 4-year-old Camdyn Carr, who's now fighting the disease, and 7-year-old Sebastian Bottomley, who previously fought AFM. Officials have been baffled by the increase, and are starting to count suspected cases as well as confirmed ones to better anticipate increases in confirmed cases over the coming months. For example, 11 of the Colorado cases of AFM this year have tested positive for EV A71, a rare type of enterovirus not usually seen in the USA, rather in Asia and other parts of the world, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

CDC has tested every stool specimen from every AFM patient. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develops sudden weakness of the arms and legs", she said.

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

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said. Health officials are alarmed and frustrated, because a specific cause hasn't been identified.

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. It's a rare disease, but the CDC thought that they might glean more about the nature of the outbreak, as well as clues about how to contain it, by releasing a report to the public.

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

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