Mysterious polio-like illness on the rise in 2016

As of July, the CDC has reported 32 new cases of acute flaccid myelitis for 2016. The number represents a sharp increase from 2015 when there were just seven such cases confirmed in the same time period.

AFM is a condition that affects the spinal cord and induces paralysis, facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes and slurred speech. AFM primarily affects children and can arise from a variety of germs, including viruses like enteroviruses (both polio and non-polio), West Nile virus and certain herpesviruses like Epstein-Barr. Other causes linked to the condition include genetic disorders and environmental toxins.

The CDC began keeping track of AFM in 2014 after 121 pediatric cases were confirmed. According to The Washington Post, the average age of these patients in 2014 was seven. Though 85 percent of these children experienced a partial recovery, only three made full recoveries.

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"CDC is looking at these trends very carefully," Manisha Patel, MD, with the CDC's division of viral diseases, told the Post. "We have sent out several health alerts to states to let them know we are seeing an increase in reporting and to encourage them to communicate with doctors to report these cases in a timely fashion."

Though there are many known contributing factors to the disease, many times a direct correlation between cause and condition cannot be established on a case-by-case basis. There is no specific treatment for AFM.

According to the Post, many health officials around the country are concerned that the 2016 numbers could reflect a repeat of 2014.

"You hate to be an alarmist, but there's reason to have some concern," Avindra Nath, MD, chief of the section of infections of the nervous system at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health, told the Post. "What we don't know is where are these cases. Are they clustered? Do they all look alike? Getting more information on these cases would be helpful."

According to the Post, the CDC's August numbers won't be available until next month.

More articles on infection control: 
Nearly 800 infected in Ohio diarrheal disease outbreak 
Mumps cases in Arkansas now over 300 
One dead in Minnesota Legionnaires' outbreak as cases increase to 14

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