More cases of rare 'polio-like' illness pop up around the US

Desiree Steele
October 12, 2018

Health officials are asking doctors to be on the lookout for children with a rare, polio-like illness after six cases were reported in Minnesota since September 20th.

This disease affects the nervous system, specifically the area of a person's spinal cord called gray matter, according to the CDC.

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 38 confirmed cases of the polio-like condition across 16 states.

According to the state health officer, In Minnesota, 6 children have been diagnosed with a rare and a tough disease which is somehow like polio. At his worst, the Youngs say, Orville was unable to move the upper part of his right arm and had difficulty moving his legs and sitting up.

In September 14 report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Colorado health officials said in that May Children's Hospital Colorado had notified them of an increase in meningitis and encephalitis in pediatric patients who tested positive for enterovirus, with EV-A71 identified in 34 children with neurologic disease.

Majority of those affected are children under the age of 10, and there is no clear cause behind its spread since 2014, the CDC reported.

This is an usually high number of patients, as the state has "typically seen less than one case a year" since the national uptick started in 2014, the release states. Possible causes may include viruses, such as the poliovirus, West Nile virus, and adenoviruses, as well as environmental toxins or genetic factors. According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 362 cases across the country were reported from August 2014-2018.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has seen an increasing number of people across the USA with the serious condition in the past four years.

All of the patients are children who have needed to be hospitalized, the department said, noting "nearly all have fully recovered". Symptoms include weakness, loss of muscle tone, facial droop, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and in severe cases, paralysis. After a diagnosis is made, health providers and investigators try to retrace the path of the illness to its source.

AFM is believed to be caused by viruses, notably the enterovirus D68.

How is it prevented and treated? In some cases, it can lead to paralysis or death but Dr. Robinette says this is a very rare complication of a common infection.

"The state health department has been monitoring this situation closely since early spring", the department said.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, and the long-term outcomes for AFM patients is unknown. "She went in for an X-ray and she couldn't hold her head up by herself anymore, which was very unusual".

"We think that in some cases, there might be a virus or some pathogen that you are initially infected with", Kenyon said.

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