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Polio  (Source: www.medscape.com)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a warning about the sharp increase of children paralyzed by a mysterious polio-like illness, called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).


With fears of a potential outbreak, CDC has become very concerned about the recent surge in children affected by this serious illness in recent months.  So far, 50 cases have been reported this year, which is more than double the confirmed reports from 2015.
 
 
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Since 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been tracking a little known, strange illness that causes polio-like symptoms. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis. Onset may occur suddenly, characterized by weakness in one or more arms or legs, along with loss of muscle tone and decreased or absent reflexes. Some people have experienced facial drooping, difficulty moving eyes and drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, and slurred speech.



Photo Source: American Council on Science and Health


Although it’s a rare illness, anyone can get it. Children appear to have been impacted the most by AFM. A child can suffer severe respiratory problems resulting in difficulty breathing, swallowing and in urgent cases, requiring a ventilator machine.
 
Viral infections, such as the Enterovirus, poliovirus, and West Nile virus have been linked to AFM cases, however the exact cause is still unknown.  Since the first case was detected, the CDC have intensified efforts to understand the causes and risk factors of AFM, and is actively investigating this illness. Previous AFM cases were diagnosed based on a combination of clinical symptoms, (e.g. viral illness), physical exam of nervous system, specific laboratory tests of spinal fluid and MRI findings.
 
AFM By the Numbers
 
According to CDC, this illness was first detected in August 2014. By December, there were 120 confirmed cases across 34 states in the US. The number of cases coincided with an outbreak of the enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) during the same year. With the sharp rise in cases already confirmed this year, 50 across 24 states, experts fear that an outbreak this year could be worse than before.
 
Health care providers are asked by be “vigilant” and look for signs of AFM among their patients. Any suspected cases should be reported to their health departments.


Number of confirmed AFM cases by year of illness onset, 2014-2016
Year Number confirmed cases Number of states reporting confirmed cases
2014(Aug-Dec) 120 34
2015 21 16
2016*(Jan-Aug) 50 24
*The case counts are subject to change.
 
 
 Confirmed AFM cases reported to CDC: January 2015 = 1, February = 2, March = 1, May = 1, July = 2, August = 3, September = 1, October = 4, November = 2, December = 4, January 2016 = 1, March 2016 = 5, April = 1, May = 5, June =8; July = 12 no cases reported in April 2015, June, September, and February 2016.

Figure 1Source: http://www.cdc.gov/acute-flaccid-myelitis/afm-surveillance.html" rel="nofollow (Updated October 3, 2016)
 
 
How is it prevented?
 
Dr. Manisha Patel, CDC lead investigator for AFM, is encouraging everyone to take this warning very seriously. Patel is encouraging people to take “general prevention strategies” such as washing hands with soap and water, staying up to date with vaccinations, and protecting yourself from mosquito bites. CDC is actively working with health care providers at the state and local health departments to raise awareness. They have also developed a fact sheet that provides more information about the symptoms and ways to prevent AFM. 

Sources: Medscape, CDC





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