CDC Expresses Concern about Emerging Cases of Rare, Paralyzing Disease

October 17, 2018

Rare Daily Staff

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said since August of 2014, it has seen an increase in the number of cases in the United States of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare condition that causes weakness in the arms and legs.

The CDC has identified a total of 386 confirmed cases. In 2018, CDC has received reports of 127 with 62 cases confirmed in 2018 in 22 states. Most of the cases have involved children. The condition is rare with less than one in 1 million people in the United States having the condition.

“This is actually a pretty dramatic disease. These kids have a sudden onset of weakness. They are generally seeking medical care and being evaluated by neurologists, infectious disease doctors and pediatricians,” Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press briefing October 17.  “So, it is certainly possible that there are patients out there who have the disease who haven’t been reported, especially mild disease. We think the majority of cases are coming to our attention.”

AFM affects a person’s the spinal cord, causing weakness in one or more limbs. AFM or neurologic conditions like it have a variety of causes such as viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders.

The patients’ symptoms have been most similar to complications of infection with certain viruses, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile virus.

The agency said it does not know what caused AFC cases to increase starting in 2014 and has not determined who may be a higher risk of developing the condition. While the cause is unknown, the CDC said it’s always important to practice disease prevention steps, such as staying up-to-date on vaccines, washing your hands, and protecting yourself from mosquito bites.

CDC is actively investigating AFM cases and monitoring disease activity. It is working closely with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to increase awareness for AFM. It has asked healthcare providers to recognize and report suspected cases of AFM to their health departments, and for health departments to send this information to CDC to help it understand the nationwide burden of AFM. CDC is also actively looking for risk factors and possible causes of this condition.

October 17, 2018
Photo: Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

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