Rare health threat captures attention in the heartland

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What's more, since health centers and laboratories aren't federally required to report cases of acute flaccid myelitis to the government like they are with other diseases, the number of cases could actually be much higher than the CDC reports.

The disease is being called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and although researchers suspect that it's caused by a virus, no virus has yet been discovered that's associated with the condition. Outbreaks appear to follow an every-other-year pattern with another sharp rise in 2016, primarily in late summer and early fall.

The number is almost double the amount observed in 2017, when 33 AFM cases were found in the US.

Symptoms of AFM include neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop, and difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

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The overall rate of AFM is fewer than one in a million, she said. Since 2014, 386 cases have been reported.

The first case of acute flaccid myelitis, a rare polio-like illness that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children, has been confirmed in Florida.

According to CNN, the average age of all patients in confirmed patients is 4 and more than 90 percent of the cases occur in children under the age of 18.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a teleconference call with reporters. Officials would not say what states they lived in, but cases have been reported in New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, and Washington. Another kind of virus was found in only some of the cases.

"That's when children can really deteriorate and end up on a ventilator", Narula explains.

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for AFM, though the CDC says neurologists may suggest options on a case-by-case basis.

Health experts have ruled out some causes, including poliovirus and West Nile virus.

It is "a pretty dramatic disease", but fortunately most kids recover, Messonnier said.

The long-term effects are not known, and outcomes have been different for patients, with some recovering quickly and others having lasting paralysis and requiring ongoing care. In 2017, one person died of AFM.

Mitchel Seruya, a surgeon at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, says when he has operated on children with AFM, he has been amazed by how unresponsive their affected nerves are. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare even with the increase in cases we're seeing right now". To help prevent the illness' spread, the CDC advises proper hand washing, staying up to date on vaccines and using mosquito repellent to avoid bites.

Symptoms include the sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and the loss of muscle tone and reflexes.

It advised that if one's child has similar symptoms, seek medical care right away. Some merely have difficulty moving the eye or the face; some have a single weakening limb.

But some state health departments have been making public their reported cases.

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