Outbreak of mysterious polio-like disease plagues residents in 22 states

Dozens of children across the United States have developed a rare polio-like illness, but the reason for this spike in cases remains a mystery, according to health officials.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 62 cases this year and a total of 386 since 2014.

She said the CDC and research partners are casting a wide net trying to figure out what is causing the rise in cases, suggesting scientists have been looking at a variety of viruses and even environmental toxins in their search. More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and under, with the average age being 4 years old.

"A polio-like disease because in the sense that it does involve the same areas in the nervous system", said Dr. Cristina L. Sadowsky, clinical director for the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, with Kennedy Krieger Institute.

20, the CDC had confirmed 38 cases in 16 states, which aren't required to report AFM cases to the CDC. Another spike came in 2016.

The 2014 outbreak of AFM coincided with a surge of another virus that caused severe respiratory problems, called EV-D68, However, the CDC could not establish a causal link between AFM and the virus.

Acute flaccid myelitis can be caused by viruses, such as polio or West Nile. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has been unable to find the cause for the majority of the cases. Symptoms include neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop and difficulty swallowing or 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.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned about AFM", she said.

MA has seen a total of 16 confirmed cases in children since 2014, plus one probable case in an adult.

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This year, five children in Maryland have come down with AFM symptoms, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

Messonnier said some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly while others continue to struggle with paralysis.

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said.

The agency knows that poliovirus is not the cause of these cases because the CDC has tested every single stool specimen from patients and none have tested positive for poliovirus.

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

Officials said they will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases.

For example, the CDC doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or why some are at higher risk, she said.

She recommended that parents take routine protections against viral infections, such as keeping up to date on immunizations, washing hands, and avoiding mosquito bites. But some state health departments have been making public their reported cases.

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