• Mysterious illness that partially paralyzes children on the rise

    Updated:

    Story Highlights

    • CDC is concerned about AFM, a serious condition that causes weakness in the arms or legs.
    • From August 2014 through August 2018, CDC has received information on a total of 362 cases of AFM across the US; most of the cases continue to occur in children.
    • Even with an increase in cases since 2014, AFM remains a very rare condition. Less than one in a million people in the United States get AFM each year.
    • It’s always important to practice disease prevention steps, such as staying up-to-date on vaccines, washing your hands, and protecting yourself from mosquito bites.

    ATLANTA - There is an uptick in a mysterious illness impacting children.

    It is raising some serious red flags with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.

    The rare disease is called acute flaccid myelitis or "AFM" and is similar to polio. 

    Minnesota's health department has reported six cases of the illness since last month.

    [RELATED: Georgia family says AFM left 3-year-old partially paralyzed]

    The CDC says it starts as a common cold, but later partially paralyzes children.

    "Weakness in your arms and in your legs, slurred speech, and facial drooping," Janette Nesheiwat said,

    She said anyone with symptoms should see a doctor right away.

    Right now, there is no cure for the illness.


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    Since 2014, CDC has learned the following about the AFM cases:

    Most patients are children.

    The patients’ symptoms have been most similar to complications of infection with certain viruses, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile virus.

    Enteroviruses most commonly cause mild illness. They can also cause neurologic illness, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and AFM, but these are rare.

    CDC has tested many different specimens from AFM patients for a wide range of pathogens (germs) that can cause AFM. To date, no pathogen (germ) has been consistently detected in the patients’ spinal fluid; a pathogen detected in the spinal fluid would be good evidence to indicate the cause of AFM since this condition affects the spinal cord.

    What CDC Doesn't Know

    • Among the people who were diagnosed with AFM since August 2014:
    • The cause of most of the AFM cases remains unknown.
    • We don’t know what caused the increase in AFM cases starting in 2014.
    • We have not yet determined who is at higher risk for developing AFM, or the reasons why they may be at higher risk.
    • We do not yet know the long-term effects of AFM. We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care.

    What CDC Is Doing

    CDC is actively investigating AFM cases and monitoring disease activity. We are working closely with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to increase awareness for AFM. We are encouraging healthcare providers to recognize and report suspected cases of AFM to their health departments, and for health departments to send this information to CDC to help us understand the nationwide burden of AFM. CDC is also actively looking for risk factors and possible causes of this condition.

    CDC activities include:

    • Urging healthcare providers to be vigilant for AFM among their patients, and to send information about suspected cases to their health departments
    • Verifying clinical information of suspected AFM cases submitted by health departments, and working with health departments and neurologists to classify cases using a case definition adopted by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE)
    • Testing specimens, including stool, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid, from suspected AFM cases
    • Working with healthcare providers, experts, and state and local health departments to investigate and better understand the AFM cases, including potential causes and how often the condition occurs
    • Providing new and updated information to healthcare providers, health departments, policymakers, the public, and partners in various formats, such as scientific journals and meetings, and CDC’s AFM website and social media
    • Using multiple research methods to further explore the potential association of AFM with possible causes as well as risk factors for AFM. This includes collaborating with experts to review MRI scans of people from the past 10 years to determine how many AFM cases occurred before 2014, updating treatment and management protocols, and engaging with several academic centers to conduct active surveillance simultaneously for both AFM and respiratory viruses.

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