62 cases of AFM confirmed across 22 states: CDC

This year, more than half of all U.S. states have had confirmed or possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like illness that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children, according to an exclusive CNN analysis.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that officials are investigating a spike in acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) cases, mostly in children, that looks similar to increases they saw in the late summer and fall of 2014 and 2016, with 127 cases under investigation in 22 states.

The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger, the CDC said.

AFM was first detected in 2014, when 120 cases were confirmed.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but treatments that have been tried include immunoglobulin replacement therapy, corticosteroids, plasma exchange and antiviral therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health. It affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis. And it is not ruling out possible genetic disorders. One child with the disorder died in 2017. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has not been able to find the cause for the majority of the cases. They also wanted to raise awareness about the frightening condition so parents can seek medical care if their child develops symptoms, and so reports of the illness can be quickly relayed back to the CDC. The CDC stressed that none of the children who developed these symptoms had the polio virus.

The agency has seen an increase in cases since August 2014.

CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues. Officials said it's too early to know whether the total cases for 2018 will surpass those previous years. But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said. Less than one in a million people get it each year nationwide, the CDC estimates.

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"Any weakness, including trouble swallowing, weakness of an extremity, especially in a child who has recently gone through signs of an infection, those would be the main red flags", said Sarah Hopkins.

While AFM is not unique to the US, Messonnier said, "no one else has seen seasonal clustering every other year". In particular, the condition can cause weakness in the arms and legs along with loss of muscle tone and problems with reflexes.

"Right now, we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases", Messonnier said. Messonnier said West Nile virus, which had been listed as a possible cause on CDC's website, is not causing the illnesses. Those officials are probing another 65 illnesses in those states.

But the agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk nor why they may be at higher risk.

The illness is called acute flaccid myelitis or AFM.

But Messonnier said that, in general, parents can help protect their children from diseases by washing their hands, making sure their children are up to date with vaccinations and applying insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites, which can spread viruses.

The illness affects the patient's spinal cord.

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