Polio-like illness: What we know and how to prevent it

Desiree Steele
October 18, 2018

The CDC has been monitoring an increase in cases since 2014 and on Tuesday reported that it has confirmed 386 instances of AFM across the country over the last four years, majority involving children.

Health officials in Oklahoma say an Oklahoma child has been diagnosed with a polio-like illness that is sweeping the country.

The suspected case in Douglas County is still under investigation and confirmation of the diagnosis could take up the three weeks. It is called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), and affects the brain and spinal cord, causing the muscles and reflexes to weaken.

So far this year, there have been 62 cases of AFM across the nation. Nesemeier says many do recover, while some can be left with a disability.


Because the disorder is rare - afflicting less than one in a million people - doctors weren't considering it initially, Hill said.

The CDC says it seems to be following an every other year pattern that emerges in the fall. The CDC actually doesn't know what causes the disease or much about it at all.

"This remains a rare syndrome, but the similarities to poliomyelitis, polio-like illness, are concerning and bear close monitoring", Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, told ABC News in an interview. Then in 2016, there were 149 confirmed cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of 127 patients with symptoms of the disease this year. "Children can also have trouble swallowing, trouble with their speech, facial droop, trouble with their eye muscles".


The increase in cases has been happening since 2014, usually in August and September, but only in 2014 and 2016, Messonnier said in a news briefing with reporters. IL health officials said they're working with the CDC to better classify the cases. It's also important to note that the number of known or suspected cases is small, so the odds of contracting the illness are extremely low. We don't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or the reasons why they may be at higher risk. She said the average age of AFM patients is 4.

In most cases, the patient's arms or legs become weak, similar to the results of infection with polio.

Other enteroviruses have also been found in patients with AFM. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develops sudden weakness of the arms and legs", she said.

Vaccines and hand-washing help protect against the spread of viral illnesses, while insect repellent helps ward off the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile.


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