CDC: ‘Mystery Disease’ Sickening Kids In 22 States, Including New Jersey

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A sharp spike in cases of pediatric acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is raising red flags with health officials, who despite concerted efforts, haven't identified a cause.

BISMARCK, ND - The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) is investigating a report of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) in a North Dakota child. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now". The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger.

Many other aspects of the illness remain unknown, including what factors puts a person at risk of becoming ill and the long-term consequences.

Because the disorder is rare - afflicting less than one in a million people - doctors weren't considering it initially, Hill said.

As CDC scientists search for the root cause of the mysterious ailment, the organisation has urged healthcare providers to be extra vigilant when dealing with patients displaying limb weakness and mobility issues.

"This remains a rare syndrome, but the similarities to poliomyelitis, polio-like illness, are concerning and bear close monitoring", Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, told ABC News in an interview.

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Officials say AFM is a neurological condition that affects the nervous system and spinal cord. 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.

The CDC has received more than 120 reports of patients under investigation for the illness this year and confirmed at least 62 cases.

People can protect themselves from contracting AFM using methods similar to preventing getting the flu, Ellerin said. The other good news is that only one of the 386 cases so far has resulted in death.

The increase in cases appeared to begin in 2014, when the CDC started tracking the illness. The symptoms tend to occur about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness. Some also experience facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, or slurred speech.

Some patients diagnosed with AFM were found to have enterovirus D68, a cousin of poliovirus, in their systems. For example, 11 of the Colorado cases of AFM this year have tested positive for EV A71, a rare type of enterovirus not usually seen in the U.S., rather in Asia and other parts of the world, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

She recommended that parents take routine protections against viral infections, such as keeping up to date on immunizations, washing hands, and avoiding mosquito bites.