Dozens of Children Affected by Polio-Like Illness in More Than 20 States

A frightening new illness is on the rise in the U.S., and it bears a striking resemblance to Polio.

The new condition causes paralysis, according to a report by NBC News, and has affected mostly children so far. Experts are calling it acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. Health officials believe it is caused by a viral infection, but so far they cannot pinpoint its exact source.

AFM has been reported in 26 states in the U.S., with a total of 85 cases and climbing. It has a wide range of symptoms, including muscle weakness and complete paralysis. The condition escalates quickly, and can begin with signs as innocuous as dizziness, trouble swallowing or trouble moving an arm. So far, there is no specific treatment for it.

The Center for Disease Control had confirmed 38 cases across 16 states by the end of September. The CDC has not released the list of states affected yet, though there are reports of the illness in Colorado and Minnesota, among others.

“There are currently two possible cases reported in 2018 that are under investigation,” said the Maryland health department's Brittany Fowler.

While the illness has been seen mostly in children, there are some adult cases reported as well, with the Michigan Department of Public Health's Lynn Sutfin pointing to one in the state.

"We just had a suspected case reported in an adult male," she told reporters.

Doctors are reportedly hesitant to confirm cases of AFM, especially because it seems to follow a viral infection, which can have a range of specific neurological effects. The CDC has a list of tests that need to be done to confirm a case of AFM, but doctors ultimately need to check the spinal cord to be sure.

“All suspected cases are sent to the CDC for review by their neurologists,” said Lara Anton, of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “It takes about a month for them to review a case and make the determination of AFM.”

Anton's department has confirmed eight cases of AFM this year, with more under review.

“There are a few cases undergoing that process right now that are not reflected in the official case count," she said. "All but one of the Texas cases are children.”


The CDC and other authoritative bodies have noted the alarming resemblance of AFM to the Polio virus, which ravaged the U.S. in the early 20th century. These days, the country is considered "Polio-free," though AFM has aroused anxieties only a few generations old.

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