Thursday, 15 November, 2018

127 cases of polio-like illness under investigation, CDC says

Johnnie Parks | 17 October, 2018, 06:25

The cases are among dozens of possible instances of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating across the country.

Federal health officials are anxious about an increase in a mysterious and rare condition that mostly affects children and can paralyze arms and legs, with 127 confirmed or suspected cases reported as of Tuesday.

"This is a mystery so far", Messonnier said, describing AFM as a "pretty dramatic disease", which preys on a child's nervous system.

"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".

Standardized surveillance was established in 2015 to monitor this illness and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence. Most of the cases involve children, officials said.

She said it was important for parents and clinicians to remember that this is a rare condition, affecting less than 1 in 1 million people under 18.

Five children in Maryland have contracted symptoms of a virus similar to polio this fall, according to the state health department.

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The CDC also does not yet know who may be at a higher risk for developing AFM or the long-term consequences of the condition. "We just don't know enough". Working with local and state health departments and hospitals, the CDC has been able to confirm a number of these cases faster, she said.

Federal health officials released the updated numbers on Tuesday, and said they still had no idea what was causing the spike in AFM cases or why kids were getting it in the first place. "And certainly after three cycles of this, when we've looked through all the normal agents, we're looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this", said Messonnier.

In research developments, a team based at the J. Craig Venter Institute conducted experiments to see if a specific EV-D68 genotype is linked to neurologic symptoms and found that some viruses from the 2014 outbreak can infect neuronal cells.

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said.

She said that CDC has tested every stool specimen from AFM patients. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.

The disease made headlines recently when news broke of cases in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Iowa and other states. States are not required to provide this information to CDC, but they have been voluntarily reporting their data.

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