Polio-like disease that's paralyzing kids now in Chicago, Pittsburgh

Quinton Hill and his parents

A 2-year-old girl was recently diagnosed in the Chicago area, and UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh confirmed that three children are now being treated for AFM at their facility.

AFM impacts "the area of spinal cord called gray matter, which causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak", the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

The state health department is working with the CDC to determine if these are indeed cases of AFM. For example, neurologists may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness caused by AFM.

More and more cases of a rare polio-like illness are being reported across the country, according to news reports. Now the downtown Chicago hospital says a second child is being treated there, but the family in the second case didn't want to be identified.

AFM typically affects young children and creates polio-like symptoms. The condition was first described in 2014 and doctors assumed a virus was to blame, but they didn't know which one.

AFM has been around for a while, but the CDC notes that there have been increases in the number of cases reported starting in 2014.

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"But it won't tell us what's causing the AFM, which virus, which process, that part we still don't know", Dr. Esper says. There, after more tests, she was diagnosed with a probable case of AFM.

The rare condition can be caused by a virus, a genetic disorder and environmental toxins.

In 2016 there was a cluster of nine cases of AFM in Washington state. "Among the people confirmed with AFM, CDC did not consistently detect EV-D68 in every patient".

"You can protect yourself and your children from poliovirus by getting vaccinated", the CDC advises.

You can protect against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).

The condition is still very rare, occurring in fewer than one in a million people in the USA each year, the CDC says. Fewer than 1 in 1 million people will contract AFM, even when these new numbers are taken into account. "They may have facial weakness, facial drooping, unable to speak, trouble swallowing", said Dr. Marcelo Malakooti. The best prevention is washing your hands often.

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