Two Mass. children contracted rare muscle-weakness syndrome this year, officials say

The cause is a mystery but the CDC and other officials have ruled out polio and West Nile virus.

The agency says there are several possible causes, including "viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders". All told 386 cases of AFM have been confirmed since 2014, more than 90 percent in children younger than 18. Maryland's first case was reported September 21.

There are no known cases of the illness in either Virginia or D.C., according to area health officials.

The number of confirmed cases has been on the rise since late 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases from August to December in 34 states.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says they had referred a case from this summer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Numbers dropped drastically in 2015 and 2017 - to 22 and 33, respectively - but were back up again in 2016 at 149.

The spinal cord condition is caused by a polio-like enterovirus and manifests with similar symptoms, particularly muscle weakness and partial paralysis. "Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now".

So far, AFM has affected fewer than one in a million people in the United States each year. The CDC says an outbreak in 2014 seemed to coincide with an outbreak of enterovirus D68, however the virus wasn't found in every AFM patient. "We actually don't know what's causing this increase", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, of the CDC.




"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said.

Generally, most children with AFM see subtle improvements over time, but "most have long-term weakness", she said. But, if their child is diagnosed, parents should prepare for extensive physical therapy - therapy that isn't always covered by insurance, he said.

She added that confirmation of each case requires a review of MRI images and symptoms, "so there is going to be a bit of a lag as we confirm those things". It could be potentially deadly if the diaphragm is paralyzed because the child would be unable to breathe.

CNN has reported that this year, more than half of all US states have had confirmed or possible cases, including North and SC.

"Families really sticking with it are seeing slow but steady recovery", he said.

States reporting suspected cases or cases under investigation are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington.

Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Wm.

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