Minnesota health officials on the lookout for rare nervous system disorder

Rare illness leaves 3-year-old boy paralyzed

Rare Polio-Like Illness Strikes 6 Minnesota Children

Acute flaccid myelitis, known as AFM, affects the body's nervous system - specifically, the spinal cord - and can cause paralysis. The five cases under investigation have not been confirmed.

AFM mainly affects children, for reasons which remain unclear.

AFM can be hard to diagnose because it shares numerous same symptoms as other neurologic diseases, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome. The average for the state is less than one case a year.

Symptoms to watch out for include sudden muscle weakness, drooping facial features, neck stiffness and difficulty swallowing or speaking.

Parents usually notice the child's loss of the use of an arm or a leg.

"I can't give really good hugs anymore, but I'm doing all of my exercises!" one of the patients, 4-year-old Orville Young, told the Star Tribune.

He had just recovered from a cold and fever in July.

"You know, he's a trouper", said Elaine Young. An MRI scan showed he had an abnormality in his spinal cord. "He was weak, he couldn't walk". The first of the six diagnoses was made in mid-September.

Between August 2014 and August 2018, the CDC received 362 cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

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

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"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.

It added that it was consulting a neurologist in each case "to better understand this illness".

"In recent weeks seven children have been diagnosed with AFM in Minnesota and Iowa, including two children who required treatment in the intensive care unit for respiratory support", the senators write. There was a national outbreak of severe respiratory diseases which were caused by the enterovirus D68. Three other cases were reported in Pierce, Lewis, and Snohomish counties. "So at that point, where it burst onto the scene, the CDC took initiatives to make this condition reportable".

A few states, including Texas, have reported a rare polio-like illness in children and the CDC is paying attention.

"There is obviously a lot of concern about it, but it is rare", Griffith said.

Health investigators are still trying to figure out how the children contracted the rare disease.

"From what my understanding is, if there is an external causal agent, it may be hard to determine when the exposure to that agent occurs", Kenyon said. They come from all over the state, including the Twin Cities area and northeastern and central Minnesota.

The CDC says that there isn't a specific treatment for AFM, but neurological specialists might recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness. Your doctor may collect information about your symptoms and send this information to their health departments.

Health officials in Minnesota and at the CDC have recommended general preventive steps. Symptoms are similar to complications from other viruses such as the West Nile Virus or the poliovirus. We have not confirmed the cause for the majority of these cases.

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