Source of 127 polio-like illnesses is still a mystery, CDC says

The CDC on Oct. 16 expressed concern about the nation's uptick in pediatric acute flaccid myelitis cases and said it is still working to identify the cause of this increase, according to STAT.

Here are four things to know:

1. AFM is a condition that attacks the gray matter of the spinal cord, which can lead to muscle weakness and paralysis. The CDC said there have been 127 probable cases of AFM so far in 2018, including 62 confirmed cases across 22 states.

2. The CDC first identified AFM cases reported in 2014. Since then, the agency has confirmed 386 cases nationwide. Most of these cases occur in individuals under age 19, although children under age four represent the largest proportion of infections.

3. CDC testing identified numerous infections in the affected children, including both enteroviruses and rhinoviruses. "We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases," Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told STAT. "There is a lot we don't know about AFM, and I'm frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness."

4. CDC researchers, who already ruled out polio through testing, are considering every possible explanation for the uptick in cases, including various viruses and environmental toxins.

"We're actually looking at everything. And certainly after three cycles of this, when we've looked through all the normal agents, we're looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this," Dr. Messonnier told STAT. "This is a mystery so far, and we haven't solved it yet, so we have to be thinking broadly."

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