CDC, partners probe 127 polio-like cases in 22 states

Case Of Polio-Like Illness Acute Flaccid Myelitis Confirmed In Mass.

The Department of Public Health has confirmed the second MA case this year of a rare but potentially devastating illness that strikes mostly children and causes muscle weakness or paralysis.

As many as 127 confirmed or suspected cases of the disease have been identified this year across a region that includes 22 different states.

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

Most of these cases began in August and September, and 90 percent are in children, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a news conference today.

Boston Children's Hospital has evaluated all of the confirmed and suspected AFM cases that occurred in MA this year.

The condition is not new, but officials started to see a rise in cases in 2014; and there was another spike in 2016.

The cause of most of the AFM incidents is unknown, according to the CDC, as are the long-term effects. It mostly afflicts children and young adults and can be caused by toxins in one's environment, genetic disorders or viruses such as poliovirus, West Nile virus or adenovirus.

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", she said.

It shows distinct abnormalities of the spinal cord gray matter on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It's also important to note that the number of known or suspected cases is small, so the odds of contracting the illness are extremely low.

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"We know this can be frightening for parents, and I know many parents want to know what signs and symptoms they should be looking out for in their children", Messonnier said.

Since officials have been unable so far to determine how the disease spreads, they are starting to count suspected cases as well as confirmed to better anticipate increases over the coming months.

The CDC said it doesn't know how long symptoms of the disease will last for patients.

Some patients diagnosed with this condition have recovered quickly but others continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care, she said.

Last year, one child died of the disease. In 2016, 22 across 17 states in 2015 and 120 across 34 states in 2014. "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said. Doctors at Children's have not seen an AFM patient needing a ventilator this year, but have treated such cases in the past, Benson said.

In some individuals, health officials have determined that the condition was from infection with a type of virus that causes severe respiratory illness.

The disease has been on the rise in the US since 2014, but it remains rare.

The CDC is investigating the cases and monitoring the disease, and encourages people to prevent the disease by staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and protecting against mosquito bites.

States are reporting their cases to the CDC, Messonnier said. It's a rare disease, but the CDC thought that they might glean more about the nature of the outbreak, as well as clues about how to contain it, by releasing a report to the public.

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