(U.S.) – The number of children being stricken by a mysterious paralyzing condition continues to increase, according to federal officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports at least 252 cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have been reported so far this year from 27 states, including 90 that have been confirmed through Nov. 9, according to the organization as of Tuesday.
Officials add that most of the cases have occurred among children between the ages of 2 and 8.
Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter, which causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak. The condition is not new, however, the large number of AFM cases reported has initiated recent surveillance of the condition by the CDC.
Officials explain that the risk of getting AFM varies by age and year. “We have seen increases in AFM cases every two years since 2014 and mostly in young children,” noted CDC experts. “We are working closely with national experts to better understand the possible causes of AFM and update our information on treatment.”
Experts note the symptoms include sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Some people also experience:
- Facial droop/weakness
- Difficulty moving the eyes
- Drooping eyelids
- Difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.
Numbness or tingling is rare in people with AFM, although some people have pain in their arms or legs. Also, some people with AFM are unable to pass urine (pee). The most severe symptom of AFM is respiratory failure that can happen when the muscles involved with breathing become weak. This can require urgent ventilator support. And in very rare cases it is possible for AFM to trigger other serious neurological complications that can lead to death.
If you or your child develops any of these symptoms, you should seek medical care right away. Your doctor may collect information about your symptoms and send this information to their health departments. This is because CDC is asking doctors to be alert for patients with symptoms of AFM so that we can learn more about this condition.
Additionally, reports indicate the illness usually starts as a fever and seemingly routine respiratory symptoms. But in some cases — between three and 10 days later — children suddenly suffer paralysis.
While the cause remains a mystery, officials suspect a possibility it is being caused by a virus that affects the digestive system known as enterovirus, however, as of now, that remains a theory.
Another possible cause may be an overreaction of the immune system to an infection. Experts are also looking closely at the possibility of rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold and other respiratory illnesses.
No one has died from the condition so far this year, noted officials. Also, in about half of cases, the patients eventually fully recover. But the other half are left with permanent disabilities, according to reports.
Medical experts continue to encourage parents and caregivers to get their children vaccinated, noting vaccines do not appear to be a possible cause of the outbreak. Additionally, there is no evidence that links the condition with the poliovirus.