(WSVN) - Cases of a rare illness that mainly affects children are being reported across the country.
The condition, called acute flaccid myelitis (or AFM), has polio-like symptoms that affect the nervous system, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it can be brought on by viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders, but acknowledges the specific cause is unknown.
Thirty-eight cases in 16 states this year have been confirmed by the CDC as of September 2018, mostly affecting children.
It can cause a sudden onset of weakness or paralysis in the arms or legs, as well as loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Patients may also experience facial drooping as well as difficulty with swallowing and moving the eyes. The most severe symptom of AFM is respiratory failure, which can require patients to be put on ventilators.
The CDC began tracking AFM more closely since 2014, when 120 patients were confirmed to have AFM in the span of 4 months.
Health officials don’t know what caused an increase in cases starting four years ago, and say it’s not clear what the long-term affects are of the condition.
There is no vaccine and no treatment other than managing the patient’s symptoms.
“We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care,” the CDC notes.
Health departments in several states, including Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois and Washington are investigating confirmed cases in their areas, many of which are not included in the CDC’s totals because they were confirmed after September 30th.
The Colorado Department of Health says it has 14 confirmed cases this year, all of whom are children who needed hospitalization. Officials said most of the cases are associated with a strain of enterovirus.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Public Health reports nine clinically diagnosed cases in the state, while Minnesota’s Department of Health is investigating six cases. In Washington, health officials say five children have been hospitalized.
Doctors say the best way to prevent AFM is frequent handwashing and keeping children home and away from others when they are sick. Parents who spot any symptoms of the illness in their children are urged to seek urgent medical care.
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