CDC: 'Mystery illness' leaving dozens of children paralyzed


First recognized in 2014, AFM remains mysterious. Outbreaks appear to follow an every-other-year pattern with another sharp rise in 2016, primarily in late summer and early fall. No one knows what causes AFM, although a virus or viruses are suspected. Some with AFM will feel weakness in their arms or legs, a loss of muscle tone or slower reflexes.

On the CDC's website, it lists symptoms of the disease, which include facial droop/weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, or difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

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"Overall, the rate of AFM over the years that it has been diagnosed which is since 2014 is less than one in a million."
Most of the cases have been in children. The average age was 4.

To give parents, healthcare workers, and public health officials a look at what to expect, she said the CDC will report suspected cases this year, as well as confirmed ones. CDC officials say they haven't found the cause. She also said West Nile virus hasn't been linked to any of these cases, either.

"That's when children can really deteriorate and end up on a ventilator", Narula explains. "This is likely a rare complication from a common virus".

Lacking an established cause, health officials have confirmed cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.

"I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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A mystery illness that attacks the nervous system, paralyzing some children, has many parents concerned across the country. Only one death has been reported, which involved an AFM illness reported in 2017.

There is no specific treatment for AFM.

On a Facebook page dedicated to the disease, one parent posted that her daughter was diagnosed with AFM four years ago after catching enterovirus.

The CDC is actively investigating and monitoring disease activity and recommends taking standard prevention measures such as hand-washing, protecting oneself from mosquito bites and staying up-to-date on vaccinations.

It's possible that some milder cases haven't been reported by doctors to their state health department or the CDC, but Messonnier believes that number would be small.

The spinal cord condition is caused by a polio-like enterovirus and manifests with similar symptoms, particularly muscle weakness and partial paralysis.

Rarely, people with AFM can suffer respiratory failure and require ventilator support when their breathing muscles become too weak.

What can be done to prevent AFM?

"We don't fully understand the long-term consequences of AFM".