Rare Polio-Like Illness Strikes 6 Minnesota Children

All six cases required hospitalization and prompted health officials to encourage parents to closely monitor their children for symptoms.

In an Oct 5 statement, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said it is investigating six AFM cases that have occurred in children since the middle of September. Cases have been reported from the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota. It's very rare and typically affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord which could lead to paralysis in some cases.

AFM or similar neurologic conditions may have a variety of possible causes such as viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders.

"There's a sudden onset of weakness in the arm, leg, face, or the muscles that help us swallow and that we use to speak", Dr. Amaran Moodley from the Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, told KDKA. A 2014 uptick in the number of cases coincided with the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by eneterovirus D68.

A study of children diagnosed with AFM in Colorado in 2014 found that a lot of them were better one year later, although most also had residual weakness in their arms and legs.

Diagnosis includes a brain and spine MRI and a spinal tap to test fluid. It has received increased attention in recent weeks after health officials in Minnesota and Colorado saw spikes in reported cases, Illinois Public Health Department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. The CDC also advises washing hands with soap and water and covering your cough or sneeze, standard practices to reduce the spread of germs. Between January 1 to September 30, 2018, 38 people in 16 states have been confirmed to have AFM. Unlike polio, there is no vaccine for AFM.

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. "She went in for an X-ray and she couldn't hold her head up by herself anymore, which was very unusual".

"It is very rare and it is certainly something we're taking very seriously", Kris Ehresmann, of the Minnesota Health Department's infectious disease section, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The cause of AFM, and the reason for the rise in cases starting in 2014, is not known. An additional possible case of AFM was reported out of Skagit County on Thursday. The agency is also studying AFM outbreaks to better understand the condition and uring healthcare providers to be vigilant about its symptoms. There is no particular treatment for AFM.

Vanessa Coleman

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