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Sean Gallup/Getty Images Mysterious paralyzing illness found among children in 22 states

17 October 2018

There are now more than 125 confirmed or suspected cases of acute flaccid myelitis - the "mystery illness" that's been affecting children across the USA and leaving them paralyzed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of at least 62 confirmed cases in 22 states, according to officials.

Of those, 30 states said they had cases that were confirmed, suspected or being investigated - including 15 states that said they had confirmed cases in 2018. She said the average age of AFM patients is 4.

"We know this can be frightening for parents", Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

She emphasized the AFM cases are very rare, affecting 1 in 1 million people, and the condition is not caused by poliovirus, though symptoms can be similar to polio. Another spike came in 2016.

In 2014, a large AFM epidemic coincided with a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), but in-depth testing of patient samples hasn't consistently found a common cause.

"We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", she said. The disease is marked by a sudden onset of weakness and loss of muscle tone in the arms and legs caused by an attack on the nervous system and spinal cord. Symptoms are sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty moving facial muscles, slurred speech and trouble swallowing. The first case in Maryland this year was contracted September 21, a spokeswoman for the department said in an email. The public health agency also does not fully understand long-term consequences or why some patients recover quickly while others continue to experience weakness.

Officials said they will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases.

That's when we spoke with the families of 4-year-old Camdyn Carr, who's now fighting the disease, and 7-year-old Sebastian Bottomley, who previously fought AFM. It affects mostly children. "Parents need to know that AFM is rare even with the increase in cases we are seeing now".

About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014.

"This is actually a pretty dramatic disease", she said.

The agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing this condition or the reasons they may be at higher risk. Health officials are alarmed and frustrated, because a specific cause hasn't been identified.

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.

States are not required to provide this information to the CDC but have been voluntarily reporting their data.

The CDC referred calls to individual state health departments.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images Mysterious paralyzing illness found among children in 22 states