Rare, polio-like condition appears in US again

Six Minnesota children diagnosed with rare polio-like disease

Six kids in Minnesota have been diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis

The Minnesota Department of Health sees, on average, about one case per year.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently announced six AFM cases have been classified in its state and were reported in children under 10 years old, living in the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota. Arm and leg weakness are common symptoms, but the disease can also involve facial weakness; difficulty swallowing, speaking and passing urine; numbness; and tingling.

The Centers for Disease and Control said AFM has afflicted only 362 people nationwide in the past four years. CDC has been actively investigating these AFM cases, and we continue to receive information about suspected AFM cases.

Even with an increase in cases since 2014, AFM remains a very rare condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said AFM presents like polio or West Nile virus, estimates that fewer than one in a million people in the USA will get AFM each year. Not much is known about AFM, which mainly affects children, and it doesn't have a cure.

Colorado has had 14 AFM cases so far this year, according to Colorado state epidemioloogist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. The cause of most of the AFM cases is unknown.

However, he said it wouldn't be surprising to see an enterovirus fill an infectious disease niche left by polio, given that polio is also caused by an enterovirus.

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"There is obviously a lot of concern about it, but it is rare", Griffith said. It was first identified in 2014, when 120 children were diagnosed. "And then there is lag time until the spinal inflammation".

AFM is not known to be contagious, she said.

There is no treatment for AFM, but doctors advise frequent hand washing, covering of coughs, avoidance of mosquito bites and staying up to date on vaccinations. He said, "If one arm isn't working correctly, or one leg, or one side of the body, or if you notice an asymmetry in the face where one side looks very different than the other side, that child should be evaluated".

If the condition worsens, symptoms can lead to paralysis or death.

In Minnesota, health officials have fielded calls from the public and doctors about how to prevent the onset, Griffith said.

Health officials are warning parents to be on the lookout for symptoms. And there are other diseases that mimic the symptoms, such as West Nile virus and Guillain Barre syndrome.

"We don't yet have any effective treatment for the virus or for the condition", Messacar said.

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