Health officials warn that a rare polio-like disease affecting children continues to spread, growing to a suspected 127 cases in 22 states

afm caseThree-year-old Carter Abernathy is among the nearly 130 patients across the country who have been diagnosed with AFM.WSB-TV

  • Acute Flaccid Myelitis, a polio-like illness affecting mostly young children, is spreading across the US.
  • Officials at the Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday the number of confirmed and suspected cases has spiked in the last month, with now up to 127 cases in 22 states.
  • AFM affects the nervous system, causing paralysis that can lead to potentially deadly respiratory failure.

The outbreak of a polio-like disease called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) keeps growing, and medical experts are still baffled as to what is causing the spike of the very rare illness.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference call on Tuesday, revealing that the number of suspected AFM cases has grown to 127, with 62 of those cases confirmed in 22 states. That's a stark increase from September 20, when there were just 28 confirmed cases in 16 states.

AFM is a condition that mostly affects young children, with 90% of the cases in this recent outbreak affecting those under the age of 18. The average patient age is four years old.

The disease can often start with the common cold, but patients will then begin to lose control of their arms and legs. Especially bad cases can deteriorate to potentially deadly respiratory failure. Last year, one person died from AFM in the US.

acute flaccid myelitisThe above graphic shows how AFM affects the nervous system.CDC

Medical experts still don't know much about the rare disease, which strikes just one in 1 million Americans. It's believed that viruses like polio, West Nile, and various enteroviruses (which cause the common cold) have been linked to AFM.

The children involved in this outbreak have tested negative for polio and West Nile, and there are no other common viruses that seem to link them together.

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on the CDC conference call Tuesday. "The reason why we don't know about AFM - and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness - we continue to investigate"

The CDC wouldn't specify which states have seen cases, but news coverage shows the impacted states include Washington, Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Colorado, New York, Georgia, and Massachusetts.

One thing researchers have noticed is that since 2014, the number of cases seems to spike every two years in August or September, according to the Washington Post.

The CDC officials said they decided to speak out about the outbreak on Tuesday so that parents can be on the look out for the symptoms. There is no known cure for the disease, but children who are caught with the condition earlier on seem to be regaining at least some movement with intense physical therapy.

The officials said that parents can try to prevent the disease by making their kids regularly wash their hands, keep them up to date on their vaccinations, and spray them with insect repellent when they go outdoors to prevent mosquito bites.

"As a parent myself, I understand what it is like to be scared for your child," Messonnier said. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now. We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs."

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