What is acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), the polio-like illness causing worry?

An electron micrograph of a thin section of EV-D68 a rare enterovirus.									Cynthia S. Goldsmith and Yiting Zhang  CDC

- The North Carolina Department of Health and Services is investigating multiple cases of a mysterious paralyzing illness found in a number of states across the country.

So far the disease has claimed one life in the U.S.

No cases of polio have originated in the U.S. since 1979, while in Australia, the last case of the disease caused by a locally acquired virus was in 1972. It causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to weaken and can even cause paralysis. Symptoms can also include facial droop and weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.

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About 90 percent of the cases are children who have suffered muscle weakness or paralysis, including in the face, neck, back or limbs. The average age of affected patients is just four.

"We know this can be frightening for parents", said Dr. NancyMessonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "And certainly after three cycles of this, when we've looked through all the normal agents, we're looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this", said Messonnier. It mostly afflicts children and young adults and can be caused by toxins in one's environment, genetic disorders or viruses such as poliovirus, West Nile virus or adenovirus. Nor can they explain why only a handful of infected children developed AFM.

The first cases of AFM coincided with an unusually severe outbreak of a common virus that affects the lungs or gut. But the link between AFM and EV-D68 is unclear because not everyone who has AFM tests positive for the enterovirus. She said that most AFM cases occur in the late summer and fall.


There are no known cases of the illness in either Virginia or D.C., according to area health officials.

The federal agency said similar waves of the illness occurred in 2014 and 2016.

Officials said some people diagnosed with the illness recover quickly while others need ongoing care. Some people with AFM may be unable to pass urine (pee).

Because officials don't know the cause of AFM, they can't recommend a specific way to prevent it.

"As a parent myself I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", Messonnier said.

Parents are urged to have their children take basic precautions, such as washing hands and using insect spray to ward off mosquito bites. Two of those cases are here in Wisconsin.

Pardo-Villamizar said, "We don't know if the virus is attacking directly the spinal cord, or if the immune response against the virus is producing the damage to the spinal cord".

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