Rare Polio-like Illness On The Rise In Children

Six Minnesota children diagnosed with rare polio-like disease

Six kids in Minnesota have been diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis

Health officials are investigating a rash of rare illnesses causing polio-like symptoms in Minnesota.

State health officials are telling doctors to be on the lookout for a rare disorder that causes paralysis after six Minnesota children were diagnosed with the disease in recent weeks.

Symptoms include drooping face and eyelids, difficulty moving eyes and swallowing, and slurred speech. And, unlike the viral disease polio, AFM's more elusive cause means there is no vaccine.

Acute flaccid myelitis is thought to happen after someone contracts a virus, like a poliovirus, West Nile virus, or adenovirus, the CDC says. The disease was most prevalent in 2014 when 120 cases, most in Colorado and California, were reported.

"At this point there isn't evidence that would point to a single source of illness among these cases", Dr. Scott Lindquist, state infectious disease epidemiologist at the Department of Health, said.

The CDC estimates that less than a million people will get AFM every year in the United States.

The reported IL cases are preliminary diagnoses and only the U.S. Centers for Disease Control can confirm the diagnosis, according to Arnold.

If the condition worsens, symptoms can lead to paralysis or death. The first of the six diagnoses was made in mid-September.

In 2014, doctors believed the cases might be linked to infection with enterovirus 68, a respiratory virus, according to a New York Times article. They come from all over the state, including the Twin Cities area and northeastern and central Minnesota.

"Not because it's happening more it's just that we're recognizing it more", Dr. Esper says.

"This includes cases of meningitis, encephalitis, and acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) as well as children experiencing myoclonus (abnormal muscle jerking) and ataxia (loss of balance)". This virus is transmitted from person to person and it can have severe effects of the brain and spinal cord of the system.

Finally, although it's unknown whether it's effective in preventing AFM, the CDC notes washing your hands often with soap and water is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Minnesota saw three AFM cases that year.

Kris Ehresmann with the state Health Department advises parents, "Any kind of acute muscle weakness in their kids, in arms and legs, that obviously doesn't have anything to do with spraining your ankle at soccer, that definitely they should seek medical attention".

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