Minnesota Children Diagnosed With ‘Polio-like’ Paralyzing Illness


The Minnesota Department of Health said that six pediatric cases of AFM have been reported since mid-September.

Cases of the "polio-like" illness acute flaccid myelitis are surfacing among more children across the US, with reports of the condition that can lead to paralysis and death coming in from several states over the last few days. While uncommon, AFM is serious and can lead to paralysis or even death.

That suggests 2018 could be another year in which more cases are reported, said Dr. Kevin Messacar, an infectious disease physician at Children's Hospital Colorado. "Disease investigators are working aggressively with health care providers to gather information about the cases", the Minnesota Department of Public Health said in a statement. Though the AFM cases show a similar seasonality as polio, Osterholm said a difference in the recent AFM pattern is that most severe polio cases were in adults.

"This includes cases of meningitis, encephalitis, and acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) as well as children experiencing myoclonus (abnormal muscle jerking) and ataxia (loss of balance)". The signs include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs; neck weakness or stiffness; a drooping face or eyelids; difficulty swallowing; and slurred speech, health officials say.

Enterovirus outbreaks typically happen in the summer and early fall - so "this is the time of year that we expect to be seeing" enterovirus cases, she said. Between 2014 and 2018, the CDC received reports of more than 360 cases. Since there is no specific treatment as of yet, neurologists can recommend certain interventions on a case-by-case basis, recommending physical or occupational therapy to help with limb weakness.

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Health officials say they do not yet know the long-term effects of AFM.

The CDC estimates that fewer than one in a million people will get the rare condition each year. This is very alarming as it is usually seen in only one case per year in that state.

In 2017, 33 cases were reported in 16 states.

AFM could be triggered by a variety of causes, including common cold viruses, poliovirus (for which children should be vaccinated), and West Nile virus (which is carried by mosquitoes and can be prevented by using insect repellant).

The CDC does not yet know the long-term effects of AFM Some patients have recovered quickly, while others continue to have paralysis, it says. And there are other diseases that mimic the symptoms, such as West Nile virus and Guillain Barre syndrome.