New treatment gives hope for children with polio-like illness AFM

ATLANTA — Cases of a mysterious illness that's leaving children paralyzed have nearly doubled in the last month.

A total of 116 cases have been confirmed across the country in 31 states, including three in Georgia.

It’s called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. The illness starts off like the common cold and then leads to polio-like symptoms, including partial paralysis.

Channel 2's Audrey Washington spoke with Dr. Thomas Clark, a medical epidemiologist and the new incident manager of the AFM investigation at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.

"It looks and acts like polio, but every time we get specimens to test, we look for polio and it's not polio," Clark told Washington. "We understand that this is scary. This is a rare disease, but it is serious."

[MORE: CDC information on AFM]

Doctors around the country gathered via video and phone conference to discuss AFM Wednesday. A full, in-person task force will meet next week.

“They’ll spend the entire day thinking through the different aspects of AFM, our current understanding, what the gaps are and how we can fill those gaps," Clark said.

In the meantime, some doctors say they are seeing new hope when it comes to restoring mobility. They’re trying out a surgical procedure that moves healthy nerves.They just performed the microsurgery on an 8-year-old who first had a sinus infection and then lost strength in his left arm.

"Tahi had a droopy face, he lost his core strength, so he was unable to sit up without assistance," the boy’s mother, Trisha Toya said.

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“What we're doing is microsurgery and disconnecting from one muscle and tunneling it to a new target,” said Dr. Mitchel Seruya with Children's Hospital of Los Angeles

Doctors said timing for this surgery is critical, because it must be done within the first 18 months of diagnosis.

There is no cure for AFM. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a task force last week to investigate causes of the disease as well as possible treatments.

Even with the rise in cases, according to the CDC, “Less than one to two in a million children in the United States will get AFM every year.”

What CDC Doesn't Know

  • 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.