6 cases of rare 'polio-like' illness diagnosed in Minnesota children

Stock image of a sick child

Acute flaccid myelitis, known as AFM, affects the body's nervous system - specifically, the spinal cord - and can cause paralysis.

At least six children under age 10 are facing paralysis, long-term health problems are even death after contracting a "rare but potentially severe condition", according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The state usually sees just one case of the illness per year, which the Star-Tribune reports has health officials now issuing alerts to doctors statewide. Unlike polio, there is no vaccine for AFM.

Health department officials urged parents to monitor their children for potential symptoms such as neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop as well as difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

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Minnesota saw three cases that year and typically sees less than one case per year. Possible causes may include viruses, such as the poliovirus, West Nile virus and adenoviruses, as well as environmental toxins or genetic factors. Despite the increase, the condition is still considered very rare, occurring in fewer than one in a million people in the USA each year. "Collecting information about suspected AFM cases is relatively new, and it is voluntary for most states to send this information to CDC". There are no known treatments, and 38 cases have been confirmed in the US this year.

According to the department, there was a national uptick in these cases in 2014 that investigators believe was linked to an outbreak of a respiratory illness in children caused by an enterovirus.

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