The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is warning about a rare mysterious illness affecting American children, which can cause "polio-like" symptoms.
The peculiar illness causes weakness in the limbs, loss of muscle tone, and may also result in neck pain, headache, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and in the worst of cases, respiratory failure.
Between August 2014 and September 2018, 362 cases were confirmed by the CDC.
More than 120 confirmed or possible cases are under investigation nationwide, according to the CDC. Other symptoms may include trouble moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or facial droop and weakness.
The agency says there are several possible causes, including "viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders". The CDC estimates it affects only 1 out of 1 million people in the United States. The illness has been compared to the polio and West Nile viruses. Although the cause remains a mystery in the majority of cases, the 2014 jump coincided with "a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness among people caused by enterovirus D68", though it wasn't found in all patients, according to the CDC.
"In most (AFM) cases, there appears to be what we call residual weakness, where the patient is unfortunately weak for a long period of time and may not recover or may not recover completely", said Dr. John Modlin, a Dartmouth College professor emeritus who is now the deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's effort to eradicate polio.
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Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it. So far in 2018, there have been 62 confirmed cases of the disease, an increase from previous year.
AFM is still extremely rare.
She added that confirmation of each case requires a review of MRI images and symptoms, "so there is going to be a bit of a lag as we confirm those things".
"We know this can be frightening for parents", Messonnier said.
Medical experts have unable to find a cause nor have they been able to determine who is at risk. But Messonnier said that, in general, parents can help protect their children from diseases by washing their hands, making sure their children are up to date with vaccinations and applying insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites, which can spread viruses.
Because the disease attacks the spinal cord, Fauci said that a spinal tap - when a needle extracts cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal - is how researchers are looking for potential causes of AFM.
CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues. "These kids have a sudden onset of weakness and they are generally seeking medical care and being evaluated by neurologists, infectious disease doctors and their pediatricians and coming to public awareness".