Mystery Illness Causing Paralysis in Children Baffles Doctors

They have not isolated the cause of these cases.

However, officials have not been able to identify the cause of most of the AFM cases, or the reason for the spikes in 2014, 2016 and now 2018. "We have detected enterovirus in several of these individual cases".

Possible causes being considered include viruses that affect the digestive system called enteroviruses, and possibly strains of rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, she said. Polio was eradicated in the vaccination.

"CDC has been actively investigating AFM, testing specimens and monitoring disease since 2014, when we first saw an increase in cases", Messonnier said. But mysteriously no other country has reported the emerging every-two-years pattern seen in the U.S., Messonnier said. However, the illness has been on the rise in the USA since 2014. "We don't know why in the majority of cases, we don't even find a cause for the illness, we can't determine what virus may have caused it, and so that's been challenging nationwide", said Susann Ahrabi-Fard, communicable disease epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues. Many people who had polio as children and recovered suffered muscle weakness again decades later. Muscles and reflexes are weakened and some patients are left paralyzed. This can require urgent ventilator support (breathing machine). The illness has caused at least one death. Ninety percent of the cases have been in children, she says.

Messonnier stressed that while she understands how frightening this situation is for parents, they should remember that the infections are, in fact, rare.

"You see your child, who likes to run and play", she said.

"We certainly don't want to alarm people because it's very rare, but at the same time, I believe it's something that's best to have checked out". It's also a serious condition.

Symptoms of AFM include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs, the CDC says. The average age was 4.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. It can start with a fever and respiratory illness; then the sick child suddenly loses the ability to move an arm or leg.

Last year, one child died of the disease.

There is no specific treatment for the virus. Once a virus has attacked the nervous system, there's no known medical intervention that can reverse the effects. Some treatments such as high doses of steroids are used, but it is not certain they work. The CDC actually doesn't know what causes the disease or much about it at all.

  • Joanne Flowers