A Mysterious Illness Is Paralyzing Children Across the Country – Here’s What You Need to Know

Panicked parents are worried about reports of a mysterious, polio-like illness leading to children becoming paralyzed. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed that so far this year 62 cases have been reported. 65 more cases are under investigation. The average age of affected children is four, with 90% of cases occurring in children under 18.  

The illness, acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is not new but cases have been rising since 2014.  The CDC doesn't know what causes AFM but states that it could be viruses, including viruses that affect the digestive system called enteroviruses, and possibly strains of rhinoviruses (which cause the common cold), environmental toxins, and genetic disorders. Adding to the mystery is that cases appear to spike every two years and that so far no common link has been found among patients with the illness.  

mysterious illness
Image via Pexels

Because AFM can lead to serious complications, according to the CDC you should seek medical care right away if you or your child develops any of these symptoms:

  • weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs
  • facial droop or weakness
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping eyelids
  • difficulty swallowing
  • slurred speech

To protect yourself and your children, the CDC recommends:

  • staying up to date on vaccines
  • washing hands
  • using mosquito repellant

Although this illness is not polio, certain viruses, such as poliovirus and West Nile virus, may sometimes lead to conditions like AFM. According to the CDC, you can protect yourself and your children from these viruses by:

  • Making sure you are all up to date on polio vaccinations.
  • Protecting 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)

Although it's scary, it's important to remember that AFM is rare, affecting fewer than one in a million people, even with the recent increase in cases.  The CDC has also been able to determine that this illness is definitely not polio nor is it related to the flu vaccine.  If you do contract AFM remember that although some children continue to experience paralysis and require ongoing care, other recover fully and quickly.  The CDC is continuing to investigate the causes of AFM and the best treatment. 

If you have any questions or concerns ask your doctor and don't panic — but do wash your hands frequently.  

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A Mysterious Illness Is Paralyzing Children Across the Country – Here’s What You Need to Know

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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