CDC Investigates Cases Of Rare Neurological 'Mystery Illness' In Kids

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The Department of Public Health has confirmed the second MA case this year of a rare but potentially devastating illness that strikes mostly children and causes muscle weakness or paralysis.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that 62 cases had been confirmed in 22 states this year and an additional 65 are under investigation nationwide.

"We have not been able to identify a cause for the majority of these cases", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and younger, with the average age being 4 years old.

She emphasized the AFM cases are very rare, affecting 1 in 1 million people, and the condition is not caused by poliovirus, though symptoms can be similar to polio.

The spikes were significantly higher in 2014, 2016 and 2018-to-date than in 2015 or 2017.

Across the US there were 38 confirmed cases in 16 states this year through September 30, according to the CDC.

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In addition to viruses, potential causes may include environmental toxins and genetic disorders, according to the CDC, and it "can be hard to diagnose because it shares numerous same symptoms as other neurologic diseases". Another kind of virus was found in only some of the cases.

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) affects the gray matter in the spinal cord, causing sudden muscle weakness and a loss of reflexes.

Other symptoms of AFM include facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech. CDC officials added that while they have not seen any geographical clustering, they have seen seasonal clustering, with most cases occurring in the late summer and fall, dating back to when the CDC first noticed an uptick in the illness in 2014.

A study published last year found 6 of 8 children in Colorado with acute flaccid myelitis still struggled with motor skills one year after their diagnosis.

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.

Messonnier stressed that while she understands how frightening this situation is for parents, they should remember that the infections are, in fact, rare.

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Doctors say the most serious cases can lead to respiratory failure.

The disorder has been diagnosed in unvaccinated children and also in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations, she said. What happens to patients down the line is unclear; some recover quickly, while others may need long-term care.

The CDC began tracking the condition in 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases.

She said that CDC has tested every stool specimen from AFM patients.

Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it.

States are reporting their cases to the CDC, Messonnier said.

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