Minnesota health officials on the lookout for rare nervous system disorder

Rare Polio-Like Illness Strikes 6 Minnesota Children

Rare 'Polio-Like' Illness Diagnosed in 6 Minnesota Kids

Acute flaccid myelitis has been diagnosed in at least six Minnesota children and health officials admit there are gaps in our understanding of the disease, including its causes and how to treat it.

Quinton Hill, 7, spent two weeks in a hospital undergoing a range of tests, according to his parents, before he was finally diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis, also known as AFM, a rare and serious condition that typically strikes children and affects the nervous system resulting in muscle and nerve weakness. Symptoms can include limb weakness, facial drooping, and trouble swallowing or speaking. The Minnesota cases have all involved kids 10 years old or younger, health officials said.

The most common transmission of AFM is through a virus, exposure to environmental toxins and genetic disorders. A 2014 uptick in the number of cases coincided with the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by eneterovirus D68. "Collecting information about suspected AFM cases is relatively new, and it is voluntary for most states to send this information to CDC".

"It's very, very rare - it's about one in a million", said Kris Ehresmann with the Minnesota Department of Health. This year along, there were 38 people diagnosed with AFM across 16 states.

"The CDC will make the final determination on diagnoses and numbers are subject to change", the statement said.

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.

In 2014, doctors believed the cases might be linked to infection with enterovirus 68, a respiratory virus, according to a New York Times article. "A person's arms and legs can become weak or paralyzed depending on the area of the spinal cord that is inflamed". Unlike polio, there is no vaccine for AFM.

"As AFM affects mostly children and has no known cure, it is imperative that CDC conduct an expedited investigation and response to AFM infections", Ms. Klobuchar wrote in the letter. There is no particular treatment for AFM. And there are other diseases that mimic the symptoms, such as West Nile virus and Guillain Barre syndrome. "She went in for an X-ray and she couldn't hold her head up by herself anymore, which was very unusual". And at the end of 2104, total numbers of people affected from AFM were 120 in 34 states.

Doctors now don't know a lot about how AFM spreads. The viruses that are accounted to cause AFM may be contagious from one person to another or may be spread by a mosquito or other vector depending on which virus causes the AFM.

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