Multiple cases of rare polio-like illness under investigation in North Carolina

Multiple cases of rare polio-like illness under investigation in North Carolina

Officials said three cases of acute flaccid myelitis have been reported in North Carolina this year - two probable and one confirmed.

Since 2014 there have been almost 400 confirmed cases of AFM across the United States.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, updated the media and public via a conference call on Tuesday. The polio-like illness causes limited mobility or paralysis.

First recognized in 2014, AFM remains mysterious.

Each year since then, usually in August or September, the CDC has logged a spike in the illness. Another spike came in 2016. So far, 2016 was the worst year, with 149 confirmed cases.

It's too early to know whether the total for 2018 will surpass those previous years.

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"This is a mystery and we haven't solved it yet, so we have to be thinking broadly", said Messonnier, adding, "You'd think that we would finding a single agent and that's not what we're finding". There is no known treatment other than physical therapy.

"A doctor can examine a patient's nervous system and the places on the body where he or she has weakness, poor muscle tone, and decreased reflexes".

The cause of the disorder has not yet been identified.

The CDC is investigating 127 reported cases, including the ones that have been confirmed.

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said. AFM symptoms include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs, sometimes following a respiratory illness.

The bad news is, although many patients recover completely from the illness, some remain paralyzed and require long-term care. The CDC says an outbreak in 2014 seemed to coincide with an outbreak of enterovirus D68, however the virus wasn't found in every AFM patient.

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Health officials urge parents to be vigilant, as there's a lot unknown about the syndrome and what causes it. Messonnier added that health officials are considering other potential causes, such as West Nile virus and environmental toxins, though none of the cases have involved them.

AFM appears to target children at around age 4. The CDC says there are preventative measures people can take to reduce the risk of infections that could to AFM.

On a Facebook page dedicated to the disease, one parent posted that her daughter was diagnosed with AFM four years ago after catching enterovirus.

"Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare and potentially life-threatening disease that is affecting residents across the state", Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist who has treated children with AFM at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, said AFM is "exquisitely rare". Sixty-five suspected cases are being investigated. The state did not provide additional details.

Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Wm.

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