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U.S. CDC confirms 62 cases of rare polio-like neurological condition

18 October 2018

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have taken the significant step of issuing a public warning about an outbreak of a mysterious new disease that causes symptoms that are eerily similar to polio, reports the Washington Post.

It's possible that some milder cases haven't been reported by doctors to their state health department or the CDC, but Messonnier believes that number would be small. More than 90% have been in children, and the average age is 4 years. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 62 cases this year and a total of 386 since 2014.

Standardized surveillance was established in 2015 to monitor this illness and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence.

Its symptoms are likened to those caused by polio, which was eradicated in the USA thanks to the polio vaccine. Limb paralysis caused by the illness can worsen quickly, so it's also important that individuals experiencing these symptoms receive prompt medical attention.

The disease has been on the rise in the US since 2014, but it remains rare.

Messonnier said that of the cases confirmed this year, none have been related to the polio virus or West Nile virus. A spokeswoman for hospital said they have notified the health department and are working with the CDC to learn more about the illness.

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"A polio-like disease because in the sense that it does involve the same areas in the nervous system", said Dr. Cristina L. Sadowsky, clinical director for the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, with Kennedy Krieger Institute. There has been one AFM-related death, which happened in 2017. Another kind of virus is suspected, but it's been found in only some of the cases. That pattern appears to be repeating this year.

She said the CDC and research partners are casting a wide net trying to figure out what is causing the rise in cases, suggesting scientists have been looking at a variety of viruses and even environmental toxins in their search. Some patients have tested positive for enterovirus or rhinovirus. But that bug - enterovirus D68 - could not be definitively linked to the illnesses.

Generally, most children with AFM see subtle improvements over time, but "most have long-term weakness", she said.

"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.

Still, because this is a "pretty dramatic disease", Messonnier said health officials want to raise awareness about the symptoms to make sure parents seek medical care immediately if their children show a sudden onset of weakness in their arms and legs. "We actually don't know what is causing this increase".

"The majority of these patients are left with extensive problems", said Pardo-Villamizar, who was not involved in the study.