Rare illness that partially paralyzes children is spreading, CDC says

ATLANTA — There are now 62 confirmed reports of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, an illness similar to polio, across 22 states in the U.S., according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Sept. 20, the CDC had confirmed 38 cases in 16 states, which aren't required to report AFM cases to the CDC.

Acute flaccid myelitis affects the spinal cord and can cause partial paralysis. It mostly afflicts children and young adults.

The virus starts out like the common cold, then leads to paralysis, like it did for 3-year-old Carter Abernathy, of Bartow County.

Carter’s mother, Cami, told Channel 2’s Sophia Choi that Carter has barely any movement in his left arm now.

“He had went to use the restroom. And he was able to pull his underwear down just fine, but two seconds later when he went to pull it up, his hands wouldn’t grip it,” Abernathy said.

This year's numbers are similar to 2016 and 2014. Since 2014, 386 cases have been confirmed, the CDC said on Tuesday. Currently, 127 patients are under investigation. The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger.


“AFM can be caused by other viruses, such as enterovirus and West Nile virus, environmental toxins and a condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys body tissues that it mistakes for a foreign material,” said Dr. Nancy Messonier, with the CDC.

Another potential cause of AFM is a type of enterovirus called EV D68, Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, told ABC News in an interview.

"That's important because enteroviruses cause the common cold," Ellerin said. "It causes fever illnesses in the summer and fall, often associated with rashes. It causes hand, foot and mouth disease. It causes a lot of what [are] typically very mild sort of nuisance-type diseases."

Typical symptoms of AFM are similar to those of a severe respiratory illness, along with a fever, but then often progress into neurological symptoms. Some with AFM will feel weakness in their arms or legs, a loss of muscle tone or slower reflexes. The most severe symptom is respiratory failure.

“Parents should seek medical care for themselves or their child if they have the acute onset of weakness in their arms or legs,” Messonier said.

Doctors don’t know why, but cases typically spike in the late summer or early fall.

Doctors said the best way to protect yourself is by washing hands, usin bug spray -- because remember, they think some cases are linked to West Nile virus -- and making sure you’re up to date on vaccines.

So far, the disease has claimed one life in the U.S.

Information from ABC News was used in this report.