Polio-like illness causing paralysis in children reaches the Carolinas

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This year, more than half of all USA states have had confirmed or possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like illness that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children, according to an exclusive CNN analysis. The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger.

Health officials are able to confirm cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.

State and national health authorities are raising the alarm about a polio-like "mystery illness" that has left dozens of children with paralysis and other symptoms in MA and 21 other states.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, updated the media and public via a conference call on Tuesday.

Some victims have been infected with viruses, but researchers have been unable to identify a single virus responsible for all cases.

There are five cases of AFM in Maryland.

Media reports in recent weeks have suggested that a "polio-like virus" might be triggering the condition, elevating fears that it might be polio itself. Though AFM has not claimed any lives this year, there was one death in 2017.

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There is no treatment specifically for AFM, but affected children can undergo physical and occupational therapy to maximize their strength and adapt to their limitations. CDC officials say they haven't found the cause.

The CDC would not release a list of the states reporting probable or confirmed cases.

Health officials in Oklahoma say an Oklahoma child has been diagnosed with a polio-like illness that is sweeping the country. She said that most AFM cases occur in the late summer and fall.

Symptoms can include sudden limb weakness, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, facial and eyelid drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and, in the most severe cases, difficulty breathing, according to the CDC.

The outlook for patients with AFM can vary from a quick recovery to ongoing paralysis, Messonnier said. Another 149 were reported in 2016. But the data reported Tuesday represents "a substantially larger number than in previous months this year", Messonnier said. Less than one in a million people get it each year nationwide, the CDC estimates.

"As we work to better understand what's causing AFM, parents can help protect their children by washing your hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites", Messonnier said. Messonnier said West Nile virus, which had been listed as a possible cause on the CDC's website, is not causing the illnesses.

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