Thursday, 15 November, 2018

Outbreak of mysterious polio-like disease plagues residents in 22 states

Steve Townsend | 18 October, 2018, 02:03

- A seventh Minnesota case of acute flaccid myelitis, a rare illness with polio-like symptoms, is under review by the Centers for Disease and Control, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The disease made headlines recently when news broke of cases in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Iowa and other states. Most of the cases have been in children.

It shows distinct abnormalities of the spinal cord gray matter on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Standardized surveillance was established in 2015 to monitor this illness and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence.

The agency has seen an increase in cases since August 2014.

Although symptoms resemble polio, no evidence of poliovirus has been found in specimens from any case diagnosed so far, Messonnier said.

A spike in the number of children with a rare neurological disease that causes polio-like symptoms has health officials across the country scrambling to understand the illness.

The number of cases in 2018 is on track to match a similar number of cases in 2014 and 2016.

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The CDC will determine whether the suspected cases in Maryland are AFM based on clinical information and lab tests, a spokeswoman for the state health department said in an email. A spokeswoman for hospital said they have notified the health department and are working with the CDC to learn more about the illness.

At least 65 more cases are under investigation, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. One child died from AFM in 2017.

Federal health officials took the unusual step on Tuesday of warning the public about an increase in a mysterious and rare condition that mostly affects children and can cause paralysis. That pattern appears to be repeating this year.

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", she said.

Symptoms include arm and leg weakness, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, in addition to facial drooping or weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

"There is a lot we don't know about AFM and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", Messonnier said. "None of the specimens have tested positive for poliovirus". She also said West Nile virus hasn't been linked to any of these cases, either. The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger.

"We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care", Messonnier said, noting how most have a "sudden onset of weakness". "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms and legs".

Asked about the discrepancy between the CDC's report of 22 states versus CNN's report of 30 states with cases, Messonnier said, "the 22 states that we're reporting are the states that have confirmed cases".

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