Thursday, 15 November, 2018

Polio-like illness causing paralysis in children reaches the Carolinas

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Johnnie Parks | 17 October, 2018, 15:58

The state's health department said the five reported cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) also are being investigated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are among dozens of cases the federal health agency is looking into across the country.

Of those, 30 states said they had cases that were confirmed, suspected or being investigated - including 15 states that said they had confirmed cases in 2018.

CDC officials added that while they have not seen any geographical clustering, they have seen seasonal clustering, with most cases occurring in the late summer and fall, dating back to when the CDC first noticed an uptick in the illness in 2014.

More than 90 percent of cases are in children. Although it is too early to understand how the current season compares to previous ones, she noted, the nation is "on track with what was seen in 2014 and 2016" and will probably have the same number of cases.

"Right now, we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases", Messonnier said.

According to yesterday's warning issued by the CDC, the disease could be linked to environmental toxins, genetic disorders or other viruses such as West Nile. The disease affects the body's nervous system and can cause paralysis.

The CDC urges parents to be aware of this illness and to seek medical care right away if family members develop sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs.

In an email Tuesday, Maryland Department of Health spokeswoman Brittany Fowler said the CDC will "make a determination about the status of the cases" in Maryland "based on clinical and laboratory information".

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The outlook for patients with AFM can vary from a quick recovery to ongoing paralysis, Messonnier said. 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. The Florida Department of Health said one case has been reported this year. There has been one AFM-related death, which happened in 2017.

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

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

Rathore said since its unclear what causes AFM, there is no treatment - it has to take its course on its own.

For example, the CDC doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or why some are at higher risk, she said.

Health officials call the condition acute flaccid myelitis (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.

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

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