Polio-Like Disease Striking Children: What You Need to Know

Five kids in Maryland may have a polio-like disease, as CDC investigates

In AFM, the gray matter of the spinal cord gets damaged, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis.

Medical officials do not know how the disease is spreading or what is causing it in the first place, but we do know that it primarily affects the young - more than 90 percent of patients are under 18.

Scientists at the University of Colorado School of Medicine infected mice with a virus that was circulating during the 2014 AFM outbreak as well as during similar spikes of the disease in 2016 and this year.

It's a rare disease that can cause muscle weakness, partial paralysis, and general polio-like symptoms in children. For reasons not fully understood, AFM affects mainly children.

The CDC's Messonnier describes AFM as "pretty dramatic" and says the federal agency is escalating its response compared with that in previous years.

"I think I would tell parents to be vigilant in looking out for, you know, arms or legs not working, that floppy head, those respiratory symptoms that don't seem consistent with other basic illnesses", she said.

There have been 62 confirmed cases of AFM, according to the Center for Disease Control. This year's AFM outbreak is gaining attention because there are 127 suspected cases so far.

At this point, health officials are not sure what causes AFM but say that it can occur after a viral infection, West Nile Virus and other illnesses.

Asked about the discrepancy between the CDC's report of 22 states versus CNN's report of 30 states with cases, Messonnier said, "the 22 states that we're reporting are the states that have confirmed cases". In some cases, patients recover quickly.

Five kids in Maryland may have a polio-like disease, as CDC investigates

"Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now", Messonnier said. Experts don't know the long-term effects of the disease.

CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues.

As of yet, there is no known effective treatment for the condition, but the vast majority of patients do recover with treatment. The CDC's surveillance shows an increase in AFM cases beginning this August, as well.

Some patients diagnosed with AFM were found to have enterovirus D68, a cousin of poliovirus, in their systems.

Another wave hit in 2016, with 149 patients affected in 39 states.

Health officials urge parents to be vigilant, as there's a lot unknown about the syndrome and what causes it.

"If you see symptoms, like, they are saying their arms are hurting or they are not using them and everything, just come to the emergency room", Faircloth said.

The CDC is actively investigating and monitoring disease activity and recommends taking standard prevention measures such as hand-washing, protecting oneself from mosquito bites and staying up-to-date on vaccinations.

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