Polio-like illness causing paralysis in children reaches the Carolinas

Ebony Scott
October 17, 2018

The average age of the patients in all confirmed cases over the past five years is just 4 years old, and more than 90% of the cases overall occur in children 18 and younger, according to analysis of cases reported in recent years.

The agency said 127 cases of acute flaccid myelitis have been reported so far in 2018.

Federal health officials released the updated numbers on Tuesday, and said they still had no idea what was causing the spike in AFM cases or why kids were getting it in the first place.

Boston Children's Hospital has evaluated all of the confirmed and suspected AFM cases that occurred in MA this year.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a teleconference call with reporters.

The CDC is actively investigating the cases and working with healthcare providers as well as state and local health departments to spread the word about AFM. The CDC doesn't know what caused the spikes.

Messonnier said the CDC has definitively ruled out polio - which causes a similar set of symptoms - as the cause. But officials haven't been able to find a single agent that would explain the clusters of cases that occur around the same time.

The disease affects the spinal cord and can cause weakness and pain in the arms and legs. Symptoms are sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty moving facial muscles, slurred speech and trouble swallowing. But she stressed that despite the increase in cases, the illness is still very rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in a million people in the USA each year.

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Besides viruses, officials are also considering environmental toxins as a possible cause, but so far, they have no evidence that a particular toxin is behind the cases.

That's when we spoke with the families of 4-year-old Camdyn Carr, who's now fighting the disease, and 7-year-old Sebastian Bottomley, who previously fought AFM.

The outlook for patients with AFM can vary from a quick recovery to ongoing paralysis, Messonnier said. The disorder has been diagnosed in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations and in unvaccinated children, she said. Officials said it's too early to know whether the total for 2018 will surpass those previous years. "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said.

In some individuals, health officials have determined that the condition was from infection with a type of virus that causes severe respiratory illness.

In research developments, a team based at the J. Craig Venter Institute conducted experiments to see if a specific EV-D68 genotype is linked to neurologic symptoms and found that some viruses from the 2014 outbreak can infect neuronal cells.

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.

Other countries have reported AFM cases, but not the same seasonal pattern the United States has experienced.

About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014. States are not required to provide this information to CDC, but they have been voluntarily reporting their data.

Other reports by GizPress

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