There are now 62 confirmed reports of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, across 22 states in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making matters even more concerning, investigators are not sure what is causing the outbreak.
The CDC has been tracking cases of AFM since a noted spike in 2014. "I encourage parents to seek medical care right way if you or your child develops sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in arms and legs". Symptoms include muscle weakness, droopy eyelids, problems swallowing, and slurred speech.
The cause of most of the AFM incidents is unknown, according to the CDC, as are the long-term effects.
Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist who has treated children with AFM at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, said AFM is "exquisitely rare".
The surge has baffled health officials, who on Tuesday announced a change in the way the agency is counting cases. CDC officials added that while they have not seen any geographical clustering, they have seen seasonal clustering, with most cases occurring in the late summer and fall, dating back to when the CDC first noticed an uptick in the illness in 2014.
The cause is a mystery but the CDC and other officials have ruled out polio and West Nile virus.
Messonnier stressed the rarity of the condition, emphasizing that it happens in fewer than one in a million children in the U.S. So far this year, cases have been confirmed in 22 states, based on findings from MRI studies and the cluster of symptoms a child has. Those officials are probing another 65 illnesses in those states. Another kind of virus is suspected, but it's been found in only some of the cases. Officials said some patients diagnosed with AFM recover quickly, while others need ongoing care.
A spokesperson with DPH told 7News that one case has been confirmed in the Bay State, while officials investigate five others.
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Officials said they will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases.
"This is actually a pretty dramatic disease", she said.
The agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing this condition or the reasons they may be at higher risk.
The CDC has tested many different specimens from patients with this condition for a wide variety of pathogens, or germs, that can cause AFM. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.
The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.
There is no specific treatment for AFM, but doctors may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness.
About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014. "Isolation protocols and infection control procedures are in place and we are working with the CDC and the Allegheny County Health Department to further monitor and evaluate the patient conditions".
States are not required to provide this information to the CDC but have been voluntarily reporting their data.