Rare, polio-like disease affecting children in U.S., says CDC

Stock image of a sick child

A rare but deadly disease with polio-like symptoms called acute flaccid myelitis has claimed more children than usual since 2014, according to an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - with rates appearing to skyrocket over the past few weeks.

Minnesota typically sees less than that one case a year, but the disease usually targets children.

AFM is a serious but rare condition that affects a portion of the spinal cord, causing muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak, according to the CDC. It can be a complication following a viral infection, but environmental and genetic factors may also contribute to its development. "It's incredibly heartbreaking to see this".

A 2016 report found there were 120 cases recorded across 34 states from August through December 2014.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., urged the CDC to investigate the national uptick of acute flaccid myelitis infections among children in an October 9 letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD.

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Muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and facial drooping are all signs of the polio-like illness that's now showing up in hospitals. The cause of most of the AFM cases is unknown. Two cases required treatment in the intensive care unit for respiratory support, and all cases involved children younger than 10 years old from the Twin Cities area or central and northeastern Minnesota.

Nevertheless, the CDC estimates that less than one in a million people in the United States will get AFM every year. They have been reported in 16 states. In July, he exhibited typical cold symptoms, immobility in his legs and paralysis of his right arm. In Minnesota, three cases of the disease were reported in 2014, but since then the number had dropped until the latest outbreak.

The health department says there are no specific recommendations for avoiding AFM, but washing your hands, avoiding close contact with sick people, cleaning surfaces with disinfectants, and staying up-to-date on immunizations is recommended.

Dr. Tina Tan, who specializes in infectious diseases and has attended to Julia, said the best advice for parents is to be vigilant and take note of concerning symptoms. A doctor can also do an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to look at a patient's brain and spinal cord, do lab tests on the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord) and may check nerve conduction (impulse sent along a nerve fiber) and response.

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