Parents warned about rare illness that can leave kids paralyzed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported recently that a rare illness that leaves it victims paralyzed appears to be on the rise in the United States.

Fifty cases of the illness called acute flaccid myelitis have been reported to the CDC so far this year. The syndrome affects the central nervous system and is more often seen in children – the median age of patients with AFM is 7 years old.

While AFM is rare, there have been cases reported in 24 states so far this year – that is twice the number of cases reported in all of 2015. An outbreak between August 2014 and December 2014 saw 120 reported cases.

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What causes AFM is not clear,  but researchers believe certain viruses such as the enterovirus (polio and non-polio), adenoviruses (viruses that cause colds, pink eye, bronchitis and other usually mild infections) and the West Nile virus play a part in the syndrome.

The disease is difficult to treat. According to CDC records, while 85 percent of those afflicted with reported cases of AFM showed improved symptoms,  only three patients ever fully recovered from the disease.

The symptoms of AFM come on suddenly with muscle weakness and loss of muscle tone being noticed first. In addition, those with AFM can experience:

  • facial droop/weakness
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping eyelids
  • difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech

 The Washington Post reported that a CDC official had sent alerts to state health departments concerning the illness. "We have sent out several health alerts to states to let them know we are seeing an increase in reporting and to encourage them to communicate with doctors to report these cases in a timely fashion."

Doctors suggest parents make sure their children are up to date on  vaccinations and that common sanitary measures – such as hand washing – be practiced. It is especially important to wash your hands if you are helping to care for someone who is ill, the CDC warned.