Florida toddler hospitalized with polio-like illness

Ben Davidson
October 19, 2018

Although the disease appears to target a certain age group, federal disease experts do not know who is likely to get acute flaccid myelitis. But Messonnier cautioned that it would be "premature" to be confident that this year will be the same as the earlier years.

But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said. It is also not known exactly what the long-term implications of the disease are.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Public Health said they are following the condition very closely and heeding warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Arizona health officials have confirmed two cases of a rare illness that has paralyzed children in more than 20 states.

"Nobody really knows treatment protocols, they don't know prognosis, and they can't really give parents an answer as to where this is coming from", she said. "All of a sudden, 'Mommy I can't zip my trousers".

While AFM is incredibly rare, the current rate is less than one case for every 1 million Americans, Messonnier urged parents and health care providers to be on the lookout for symptoms.

When AFM strikes, patients experience sudden weakness, as well as loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms and legs.

Possible causes being considered include viruses that affect the digestive system called enteroviruses, and possibly strains of rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, she said.

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Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 62 cases in 22 states this year.

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

Despite its similarity to polio, none of the AFM patients has tested positive for the poliovirus, Messonnier said. The polio-like illness causes limited mobility or paralysis.

The mysterious increase in cases of AFM, as it's called, was first spotted in the late summer and autumn of 2014.

Messonnier also said none of this year's cases have been linked to West Nile virus. Neurologists may suggest treatments on a case-by-case basis, and doctors can recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness. Although there is no definitive diagnosis, doctors can identify AFM from a combination of symptoms and an MRI scan, which can reveal spine inflammation. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.

It is "a pretty dramatic disease", but fortunately most kids recover, Messonnier said. One child died from AFM in 2017. "You don't need an very bad lot of paralyzed children to make this an important problem". According to a Tuesday press briefing, there have been 62 confirmed cases across 22 states in the U.S.A in 2018.

Cases nationwide may have gone up since 2014, but Wisconsin didn't see its first case until 2016, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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