CDC Investigates Cases Of Rare Neurological 'Mystery Illness' In Kids

US health officials on Tuesday reported a jump in cases of a rare paralyzing illness in children, and said it seems to be following an every-other-year pattern.

Of those, 62 cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have been confirmed in 22 states, according to Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AFM affects a person's nervous system, according to the CDC website, mainly in the spinal cord, and can present polio-like symptoms, including weakness and pain in the arms and legs. And it is not ruling out possible genetic disorders. So far, the number of cases in 2018 is similar to the number reported in 2014 and 2016, Messonnier said. Since the phenomenon began in 2014, she said, the rate of infections has been less than one case per 1 million children in the country. Officials have been baffled by the increase, and are starting to count suspected cases as well as confirmed ones to better anticipate increases in confirmed cases over the coming months.

The agency said it is very concerned about it. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has been unable to find the cause for the majority of the cases.

"Right now, we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases", Messonnier said. The symptoms tend to occur about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms and legs". AFM appears to be seasonal, occurring mostly in the late summer and fall, but appears in greater numbers every other year.

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The CDC also does not yet know who may be at a higher risk for developing AFM or the long-term consequences of the condition. Cases have been reported from the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota.

Maryland health officials said their first case was reported to them September 21. But Messonnier cautioned that it would be "premature" to be confident that this year will be the same as the earlier years.

"This is actually a pretty dramatic disease", she said. "And certainly after three cycles of this, when we've looked through all the normal agents, we're looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this", said Messonnier.

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.

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