Tenn. child diagnosed with mysterious illness; 22 states affected

An electron micrograph of a thin section of EV-D68 a rare enterovirus.									Cynthia S. Goldsmith and Yiting Zhang  CDC

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

First recognized in 2014, AFM remains mysterious. No one knows what causes AFM, although a virus or viruses are suspected.

"AFM is a rare, but serious condition that affects the nervous system. Children can also have trouble swallowing, trouble with their speech, facial droop and trouble with their eye muscles".

The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily. Since then, there have been more than 350 confirmed cases of the sickness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of at least 62 confirmed cases in 22 states, according to officials.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned about AFM", said Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Here is what is known about the disease that has had 127 confirmed or suspected cases in 22 states as of Tuesday, including Pennsylvania.

Symptoms tend to occur about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness. The study was published in the journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.

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The increase in cases appeared to begin in 2014, when the CDC started tracking the illness. West Nile virus is also not a culprit, she said.

Despite that alarm, there are a lot of unknowns about the polio-like illness, including what causes it and why it affects children more than adults. The CDC says an outbreak in 2014 seemed to coincide with an outbreak of enterovirus D68, however the virus wasn't found in every AFM patient. In 2017, one person died of AFM.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but neurologists who specialize in treating brain and spinal cord illnesses may recommend certain interventions, such as physical or occupational therapy, on a case-by-case basis.

In September, Pardo-Villamizar and his colleagues published a follow-up of 16 patients stricken in 2016 that concluded that "the majority of children with AFM have limited motor recovery and continued disability". "But the appearance of the AFM symptoms is actually very rare". 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. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs". Ninety percent of people with AFM are 18 or younger, and the average age of AFM patients is four years old, Buzzfeed notes.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs.

In the most severe cases, the muscles that control breathing are weakened to the point the patient requires ventilator.

States are reporting their cases to the CDC, Messonnier said.

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