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November 14, 2018

Pennsylvania health department urges vigilance in reporting suspected AFM cases

CDC confirms 90 cases of the neurological disease affecting children, while investigating 162 more cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is asking medical professionals to report immediately any suspected cases of acute flaccid myelitis as the number of cases of the polio-like virus continues to grow nationwide.

In a Tuesday briefing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 90 confirmed cases (and 162 more cases under investigation) of AFM, a rare but serious nervous system condition, in 27 states this year. Most of the cases were children, specifically between 2 and 8 years old, with nearly all of the patients reporting fever and/or respiratory illness in the three to 10 days before limb weakness. In almost all patients, an upper limb was involved. About half had only upper limb involvement. The disease can paralyze healthy children in a matter of hours.

RELATED READ: A polio-like virus is popping up in the U.S., with cases in Pa., N.J.

No fatalities have yet been reported this year, according to the CDC.

Cases of AFM have been confirmed in the United States since 2014. However, as the CDC reports, most of the cases reported this year came from August to October.

The CDC reports that initial symptoms include rapid onset of muscle weakness in one or more limbs paired with abnormalities in the gray spinal fluid, which would be visible in an MRI. These symptoms are most common in patients ages 21 years old and younger.

Further, the CDC has determined that more than 90 percent of the patients with AFM had a mild respiratory illness or fever consistent with a viral infection before they developed the condition. The CDC said coxsackievirus A16, EV-A71, and EV-D68 was detected in the spinal fluid of four of 414 confirmed cases of AFM since 2014. This certainly could point to a cause of the virus, but some patients lack that pathogen, so a definitive cause has yet to be found.

The CDC has been criticized in recent days by parents who say the agency is intentionally downplaying the severity of the disease by not publicly acknowledging two deaths from it, one in May and one in September, CNN reported.

"I feel like they're just sugar-coating this," Katie Bustamante told CNN. Her son Alex, 6, died in May. "It eliminates my trust in the CDC."

The CDC website features an “AFM Investigation” page which is updated periodically.

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