A mysterious, polio-like paralyzing condition affecting children is on the rise – with 33 new cases this week alone – prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch a dedicated task force to investigate the illness.
In 2018 so far, a suspected 252 patients (90 confirmed) have been afflicted in 27 US states so far, according to statements by a CDC official during a press briefing on Tuesday. There have been no confirmed deaths due to the condition, although some parents are accusing the CDC of not reporting children’s deaths.
In an effort to determine the cause of the illness and ascertain the best treatments, the CDC has formed a research-focused task force.
Most of the new cases are affecting children between the ages of 2 and 8.
The symptoms begin as what seems to be a routine respiratory illness, including a fever and respiratory infections. However, in some cases, between three and 10 days after first showing symptoms – a sudden onset of muscle weakness of the limbs begins and the children suddenly suffer paralysis.
The condition is being called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and as previously noted, it mostly affects younger children.
What health officials are struggling with is trying to determine the cause of the condition, which for now – remains a mystery.
Confirming AFM is a complicated process. Upon examination, spinal fluid tests and MRI reveal damage to the children’s spinal cords.
In suspected cases, doctors are finding that, in less sterile bodily fluids, they are finding that 54% of patients are testing positive for enteroviruses. However, doctors are quick to point out that such presence does not indicate that it is the cause of AFM.
A leading theory is that it is being caused by an enterovirus – a virus which affects the digestive system.
Another theory is examining the possibility that it is connected to rhinoviruses, which are responsible for causing the common cold and other respiratory illnesses.
Yet a third line of thinking is looking into whether the condition is an overreaction of the immune system to an infection.