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New Rare Polio-Like Disease Being Investigated In United States

A new rare, polio-like condition seems to be springing up among children across the U.S. Currently there are 20 cases under investigation: six in Minnesota, and 14 in Colorado.

The condition is called Acute flaccid myelitis, and it first came into the spotlight in 2014, when 120 individual children were diagnosed in the United States. In the time since, there have been few diagnoses. This year, there have been 38 nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, just 33 cases were reported, and in 2016, 149 individuals were diagnosed with the condition.

As with polio, acute flaccid myelitis impacts the central nervous system, attacking the gray matter area of the spinal cord. Individuals with the condition report weakness in the arms, legs, and facial muscles, as well as difficulty speaking, swallowing, and performing eye movements.

“We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care,” says the CDC.

A key complication that can arise from the condition is respiratory failure if the muscles used to breath become too weak.

The condition remains rare, and the majority of reported cases are in children. According the CDC, the exact cause is still unknown, but most professionals believe it to be caused by viruses, rather than an autoimmune condition. A number of cases have been in patients who tested positive for one form of enterovirus or another, according to the CDC.

“If parents see potential symptoms of AFM in their child, (for example, if he or she is not using an arm) they should contact their health care provider as soon as possible. AFM can be diagnosed by examining a person’s nervous system, taking an MRI scan and testing the cerebral spinal fluid,” said the Minnesota Department of Health in a press release.

While there isn’t a common treatment for the condition, doctors can prescribe “interventions on a case-by-case basis,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The condition remains rare, with only 1 in 1 million people being diagnosed each year.