Minnesota Children Diagnosed With ‘Polio-like’ Paralyzing Illness

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Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh confirmed on Tuesday evening that three children suspected of having acute flaccid myelitis are being treated. Similar to polio, the disease affects a person's nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, and can cause paralysis. The Minnesota Department of Health sees, on average, about one case per year.

Health officials say they do not yet know the long-term effects of AFM.

Up through September of this year, 38 cases of AFM have been confirmed in 16 states, according to the CDC, and 362 people have contracted AFM since August 2014. Cases have been reported from the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota.

AFM mainly affects children, for reasons which remain unclear. A doctor can also do an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to look at a patient's brain and spinal cord, do lab tests on the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord) and may check nerve conduction (impulse sent along a nerve fiber) and response. It has, however, been linked to a number of common germs that cause colds, sore throats and respiratory infections as well as to other viruses, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses and mosquito-borne viruses, such as the Zika virus.

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Reports surfaced on Wednesday that two Chicago-area children are being treated at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago for the illness - including 2-year-old Julia Payne, who has been fighting the illness for almost a month. In recent weeks seven children have been diagnosed with AFM in Minnesota and Iowa, including two children who required treatment in the intensive care unit for respiratory support.

Since August 2014, when the CDC began tracking the illness more closely, the agency has reported 362 cases. "The department is also in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to share information". Symptoms can include limb weakness, facial drooping, and trouble swallowing or speaking. Polio is the most significant disease caused by an enterovirus.

Ehresman says it's unknown what causes A-F-M but people should observe good hygiene and be sure vaccinations are up-to-date. A medical report detailing the case of a 12-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with AFM noted that caring for patients with AFM often means involving an infectious disease physician, a neurologist, an orthotist, physical therapist and a speech therapist. Doctors have seen a slight increase in cases since August 2014, with many of them found in children. The causes of AFM vary from viruses to environmental toxins to genetic disorders, according to the health department.