Mysterious paralyzing illness reported in 22 states — CDC

Case Of Polio-Like Illness Acute Flaccid Myelitis Confirmed In Mass.

In New Jersey, two cases were reported in August and one in February, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

While officials aren't clear of the exact cause, they say it can occur as a result of a variety of viral illnesses including the polio virus, enteroviruses, West Nile virus and adenoviruses.

"This is truly a mysterious disease", said Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said. The disease affects the body's nervous system and can cause paralysis. The disease was first identified in 2014, but the scary part is that cases seem to be increasing.

More broadly, she noted, "there is a lot we don't know about AFM".

"We don't know why in the majority of cases, we don't even find a cause for the illness, we can't determine what virus may have caused it, and so that's been challenging nationwide", said Susann Ahrabi-Fard, communicable disease epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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In a press briefing Tuesday, officials talked about an increase in cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) this year.

About 90 percent of the cases are children who have suffered muscle weakness or paralysis, including in the face, neck, back or limbs. Symptoms include muscle weakness, droopy eyelids, problems swallowing, and slurred speech.

The CDC has received more than 120 reports of patients under investigation for the illness this year and confirmed at least 62 cases. There have now been a total of 386 confirmed cases since 2014.

Messonnier called it a "pretty dramatic disease". The CDC estimates it affects only 1 out of 1 million people in the United States.

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said. We actually don't know what is causing this increase.

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Any child experiencing weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms and legs should be examined immediately. "These symptoms that are similar to cold-like symptoms, with this particular virus, what is probably happening is something is causing an inflammation within the spinal cord".

State health officials in Minnesota issued an alert to doctors this month after six children there were diagnosed with AFM. Officials will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases. She said the average age of AFM patients is 4. To date, no pathogen has been consistently detected in AFM patients.

Parents are urged to have their children take basic precautions, such as washing hands and using insect spray to ward off mosquito bites. "So we're very lucky that he had (physical therapy) through early intervention".

How can AFM be treated?

It could be potentially deadly if the diaphragm is paralyzed because the child would be unable to breathe.

Now 3 years old, Hunter has slowly recovered.

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Washington Post writers Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Wm.

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