The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there have been 62 cases of the rare polio-like condition acute flaccid myelitis, also known as AFM, this year.
AFM is a rare condition that affects the nervous system, causing muscle weakness.
The increase in cases appeared to begin in 2014, when the CDC started tracking the illness. Most of the cases have involved children. Other symptoms may include trouble moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or facial droop and weakness.
In addition to viruses, potential causes may include environmental toxins and genetic disorders, according to the CDC, and it "can be hard to diagnose because it shares numerous same symptoms as other neurologic diseases".
Parents and clinicians should remember that this is a rare condition, affecting less than one in a million people, she said.
Boston Children's Hospital has evaluated all of the confirmed and suspected AFM cases that occurred in MA this year.
"I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While AFM is not unique to the US, Messonnier said, "no one else has seen seasonal clustering every other year".
The cases in 2014 and 2016 were partly attributed to particular strains of respiratory germs called enteroviruses, which spread the most in the summer and fall.
None of the US patients tested positive for polio, a crippling and often deadly disease which was eliminated in this country thanks to the polio vaccine.
Lacking an established cause, health officials confirm cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.
CNN has reported that this year, more than half of all USA states have had confirmed or possible cases, including North and SC. So far, 2016 was the worst year, with 149 confirmed cases.
"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". Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has been unable to find the cause for the majority of the cases.
All of the worries about AFM just give parents and grandparents one more thing to worry about.
The CDC says there are preventive measures people can take to reduce the risk of infections that could lead to AFM.
Other states with cases included Colorado, Illinois and Washington. Symptom onset is generally quite sudden, and Messonnier urged parents to seek medical care quickly for children displaying these symptoms.
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