They also wanted to raise awareness about the condition so parents can seek medical care if their child develops symptoms, and so physicians can quickly relay reports of the potential illness to the CDC. Officials said it's too early to know whether the total cases for 2018 will surpass those previous years.
AFM affects a person's nervous system, according to the CDC website, mainly in the spinal cord, and can present polio-like symptoms, including weakness and pain in the arms and legs. The illness can lead to serious complications - including paralysis or respiratory failure - and requires immediate medical attention. The average age of a patient is 4 years old.
Parents and clinicians should remember that this is a rare condition, affecting less than one in a million people, she said.
Parents can best protect their children from serious diseases by taking prevention steps, like washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines, and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites, she said.
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Among the concerns the CDC has are that the agency does not know the cause of AFM, why there has been an increase in cases since 2014, or the long-term effects of the illness.
So far 62 of the cases-marked by sudden onset of limb weakness and decreased muscle tone-have been confirmed, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said today at a media briefing. No one knows what causes AFM, although a virus or viruses are suspected.
Messonnier said that of the cases confirmed this year, none have been related to the polio virus or West Nile virus. And though enteroviruses have been detected in some paralysis cases, it hasn't been found in others, CDC officials say. They have not isolated the cause of these cases. Investigators have also ruled out a variety of germs.
Acute flacid myelitis or AFM is not new, but cases have been on the rise since 2014. Since then, no large outbreaks of virus have occurred, according to the CDC.
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Specifically, the disease affects the area of the spinal cord called gray matter.
It's not clear who is at risk.
"Any weakness, including trouble swallowing, weakness of an extremity, especially in a child who has recently gone through signs of an infection, those would be the main red flags", said Sarah Hopkins.
Pardo-Villamizar said identifying vulnerable populations is "a work in progress".
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"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said. The disorder has been diagnosed in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations and in unvaccinated children, she said. However, experts say that initial indications from a small number of cases suggest a grim outlook. This year is one of them. Nonetheless, the researchers found that the patients and families "demonstrated a high degree of resilience and recovery". Numbers dropped drastically in 2015 and 2017 - to 22 and 33, respectively - but were back up again in 2016 at 149. It causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak or even paralyzed.