"I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Today (Oct. 16), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it had received reports of 127 cases of people with the condition, called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), in 2018.
Because the symptoms are similar, AFM is often confused with polio, a crippling and potentially fatal disease that is caused by a virus.
Some possible causes being investigated by the CDC include enteroviruses, which affect the digestive system, and rhinoviruses - the infectious agents associated with the common cold.
In some cases children have recovered, but in others the paralysis has lingered.
To give parents, healthcare workers, and public health officials a look at what to expect, she said the CDC will report suspected cases this year, as well as confirmed ones.
According to the Douglas County Health Department, a suspected case of AFM is being investigated in a young child. More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and under, with the average age being 4 years old.
Other countries have reported AFM cases, but not the same seasonal pattern the United States has experienced.
But this illness is exceedingly rare, affecting fewer than one in a million people. We actually don't know what is causing this increase.
The number of confirmed cases has been on the rise since late 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases from August to December in 34 states. CDC has tested every stool specimen from every AFM patient.
"We want to see that education", he said, "in order to have early recognition and detection". But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said.
"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said.
What is acute flaccid myelitis? She also said West Nile virus hasn't been linked to any of these cases, either.
But Messonnier said that, in general, parents can help protect their children from diseases by washing their hands, making sure their children are up to date with vaccinations and applying insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites, which can spread viruses. "We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms and legs".
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