Spike reported nationwide in cases of baffling paralysis in children

5 children in Maryland might have a polio-like disease. The CDC is investigating.

The state's health department said the five reported cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) also are being investigated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are among dozens of cases the federal health agency is looking into across the country.

There were 120 cases in 2014 when the disease was first detected in the United States.

And for now, it's hard to say if 2018 will equal or surpass spikes seen in 2014 and 2016, Messonnier said, adding that state and federal health officials haven't finished the whole diagnostic algorithm for numerous cases reported over the past several weeks.

AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the area of spinal cord called gray matter, and causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak or even paralyzed.

While the cause of AFM is not clear, experts say it can occur as a result of a variety of viral illnesses including the polio virus, enteroviruses, West Nile virus, and adenoviruses.

As many as 127 confirmed or suspected cases of the disease have been identified this year across a region that includes 22 different states.

More than 90 percent of the cases involved children 18 or younger, with an average age of just 4 years old.

She said that CDC has tested every stool specimen from AFM patients. With the sudden onset of weakness, patients are "generally seeking medical care" and being evaluated by neurologists, infectious disease doctors and pediatricians.

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The increase in cases appeared to begin in 2014, when the CDC started tracking the illness.

Media reports in recent weeks have suggested that a "polio-like virus" might be triggering the condition, elevating fears that it might be polio itself.

Health officials are urging parents to seek immediate medical advice if their child experiences weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms and legs. Doctors at Children's have not seen an AFM patient needing a ventilator this year, but have treated such cases in the past, Benson said.

The cases in 2014 and 2016 were partly attributed to particular strains of respiratory germs called enteroviruses, which spread the most in the summer and fall.

The disorder has been diagnosed in unvaccinated children and also in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations, she said.

In some individuals, health officials have determined that the condition was from infection with a type of virus that causes severe respiratory illness. Officials will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases.

The CDC is investigating the cases and monitoring the disease, and encourages people to prevent the disease by staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and protecting against mosquito bites. States are not required to provide this information to CDC, but they have been voluntarily reporting their data.

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