A disease with symptoms similar to those of polio has spread to 22 states in the United States. The number of confirmed cases reported this year has reached 62, with another 65 suspected of having contracted the limb-debilitating condition.
This information was shared by Dr. Nancy Messonier, the director of Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at a press conference on Tuesday.
She said that the CDC began receiving increased reports of suspected the Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) cases in August and September.
The AFM first gained attention in the US in 2014, when there was an outbreak of 120 cases. Since then, the number of patients has grown to 400.
Read more: Polio-like disease emerges in Minnesota
Frequently compared to polio, the AFM is most common in children and attacks the spinal cord, leading to weakness in the limbs and loss of muscle. Symptoms also include neck pain, headaches, difficulty speaking and swallowing as well as respiratory failure. Children with the AFM usually get a fever before rapidly losing their ability to move one or more of their limbs. This paralysis worsens quickly. Doctors recommend getting a medical checkup at the first sign of unusual limb weakness.
Elaborating on the work being done to better understand the disease, Dr. Messonier said that the CDC has tested stool samples for all of the 62 patients for the poliovirus. None have tested positive. She added that AFM-like symptoms can also be caused by the enterovirus and west nile virus, environmental toxins and certain autoimmune conditions.
Commenting on the CDC’s failure to better understand the disease, Messonier lamented, “I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness.”
“We don’t fully understand the long-term consequences of the AFM,” she added.
The disease is, however, very rare. Based on CDC data collected since 2014, the disease affects less than one in a million people every year. According to the CDC, parents can better protect their children from the disease by following basic prevention steps like making sure they wash their hands, and staying up-to-date with the latest vaccines.