Suspected cases of the mysterious polio-like disease AFM has grown to 286, up more than 130 cases from last month

Three-year-old Carter Abernathy is among the dozens of patients across the country who have been diagnosed with AFM. WSB-TV
  • Acute Flaccid Myelitis, a polio-like illness affecting mostly young children, is spreading across the US.
  • Officials at the Centres for Disease Control said on Monday the number of cases has spiked in the last month, with now 286 suspected cases.
  • AFM affects the nervous system, causing paralysis that can lead to potentially deadly respiratory failure.
  • Doctors aren’t sure what causes the rare illness, but some believe a certain virus may be responsible for the recent uptick in cases.

The outbreak of a polio-like disease called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) keeps growing, with more than 130 new suspected cases across the United States in the last month.

Officials with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention revealed on Monday that the number of suspected AFM cases has grown to 286, though medical experts are still baffled as to what is causing the spike in the rare illness. Last month, the number of suspected cases was at 155.

The number of confirmed cases is now at 116 in 31 states. That’s a stark increase from the end of October, when there were just 62 confirmed cases in 22 states.

Last week, the CDC announced that they were forming a task force to address the outbreak.

“I want to reaffirm to parents, patients, and our Nation CDC’s commitment to this serious medical condition,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement. “This Task Force will ensure that the full capacity of the scientific community is engaged and working together to provide important answers and solutions to actively detect, more effectively treat, and ultimately prevent AFM and its consequences.”

Acute flaccid myelitis
The above graphic shows how AFM affects the nervous system. CDC

AFM is a condition that mostly affects young children, with 90% of the cases in this recent outbreak affecting those under the age of 18. The average patient age is four years old.

The disease can often start with what appears to be a common cold, but patients will then begin to lose control of their arms and legs. Especially bad cases can deteriorate to potentially deadly respiratory failure.

Last year, one person died from AFM in the US.

Read more:
People in dozens of states have come down with a rare polio-like illness this year – here’s what to know about it

Acute flaccid myelitis map cdc
A map released by the CDC shows which states this year’s confirmed AFM cases have been reported in. CDC

Medical experts still don’t know much about the rare disease, which strikes just one in 1 million Americans. It’s believed that viruses like polio, West Nile, and various enteroviruses (which cause the common cold) may be linked to AFM.

The children involved in this outbreak have tested negative for polio and West Nile.

Doctors and researchers who have been treating patients with AFM in the latest outbreak say they believe a virus called EV-D68 may be responsible for the recent uptick in cases.

One thing researchers have noticed is that since 2014, the number of cases seems to spike every two years in August or September, the Washington Post pointed out.

Afm cases reported
The number of Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) appear to spike in August and September every two years, and researchers aren’t sure why. CDC

The CDC officials said they decided to speak out about the outbreak so that parents can be on the look out for the symptoms. There is no known cure for the disease, but children who are diagnosed earlier on have been able to gain at least some movement with intense physical therapy.

The officials said that parents can try to prevent the disease by making their kids regularly wash their hands, keep them up to date on their vaccinations, and spray them with insect repellent when they go outdoors to prevent mosquito bites.

“As a parent myself, I understand what it is like to be scared for your child,” Messonnier said. “Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now. We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs.”