Mysterious paralyzing illness reported in 22 states — CDC

Leslie Hanson
October 17, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed frustration and concern Tuesday about a puzzling surge in cases of polio-like paralysis, mostly in children, being reported across the country this year. Most of the cases are in children under the age of 19, with kids under the age of 4 appearing to make up the biggest portion of cases.

In 2014 the CDC said there was a spike in the AFM virus, with 120 people afflicted with it from August to December of that year in 34 states.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but treatments that have been tried include immunoglobulin replacement therapy, corticosteroids, plasma exchange and antiviral therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Acute flaccid myelitis, also called AFM, is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system and causes the muscles and reflexes to suddenly become weak, she said Tuesday. And it is not ruling out possible genetic disorders.

Since officials have been unable so far to determine how the disease spreads, they are starting to count suspected cases as well as confirmed to better anticipate increases in confirmed cases over the coming months, she said. The agency said it is very concerned about it. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has not been able to find the cause for the majority of the cases. Symptom onset is generally quite sudden, and Messonnier urged parents to seek medical care quickly for children displaying these symptoms. Parents should seek medical care immediately if their child develops sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms and legs.

It is a rare, but serious condition - fewer than one in a million Americans will get AFM every year, the CDC estimates. In 2016, there were 149 cases. Officials said it's too early to know whether the total cases for 2018 will surpass those previous years. So far, the number of cases in 2018 is similar to the number reported in 2014 and 2016, Messonnier said.

Messonnier said the search for a cause is frustrating, and so far, no particular pathogen or immune response has been identified that would explain the big AFM peaks.


"Right now, we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases", Messonnier said. Those officials are probing another 65 illnesses in those states.

The agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing this condition or the reasons they may be at higher risk. Only one death has been reported, which involved an AFM illness reported in 2017.

The CDC is investigating the cases and monitoring the disease, and encourages people to prevent the disease by staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and protecting against mosquito bites.

The illness affects the patient's spinal cord. The CDC would not release a list of the states reporting probable or confirmed cases.

On Monday, CNN reached out to health departments in every state and received responses from 48 states plus the District of Columbia. States are not required to provide this information to CDC, but they have been voluntarily reporting their data.

Lacking an established cause, health officials confirm cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER