A rare but deadly disease with polio-like symptoms called acute flaccid myelitis has claimed more children than usual since 2014, according to an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — with rates appearing to skyrocket over the past few weeks.
There have been 362 cases of the disease, which affects the patient’s nervous system, especially the spinal cord, since August 2014, which the CDC calls “an increased number.” In Minnesota alone, six children have been diagnosed since mid-September. The average for the state is less than one case a year.
Majority of those affected are children under the age of 10, and there is no clear cause behind its spread since 2014, the CDC reported. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, symptoms include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs, sometimes following a respiratory illness, neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop, and difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.
The father of a child with AFM, 7-year-old Quinton Hill from Lakeville, Minnesota, spoke with USA Today about his son’s condition.
“It’s been very scary,” James Hill told the outlet. “There’s not much that can be done and as a parent that’s very difficult to deal with.”
Quinton has weakened strength in his left arm, legs and neck.
“Just to have him lift his head up a bit more to look to the side was a blessing because we didn’t know if that was coming back,” Hill recalled. “There’s a group on Facebook with a few hundred parents who are dealing with this and that helps. We want to tell others that they’re not alone in this.”
Elaine and Michael Young, another set of parents, whose 4-year-old son is fighting AFM, told CBS News that Orville developed a fever in July and started losing mobility in his right arm.
“I said, ‘Hey, buddy, can you lift your right arm?’ And he goes, ‘I can’t,’” said Elaine. After his diagnosis, he spent six days in the hospital. At his worst, he could barely sit up.
“I just felt so sad for him that this thing that we didn’t know about and couldn’t protect him from had happened and had taken a lot away from him,” Michael added.
There is no vaccination against AFM, so the CDC recommends preventing diseases that can lead to the disease, including poliovirus and West Nile. Parents should vaccinate their children against polio and take precautions to prevent mosquito bites. The CDC also advises washing hands with soap and water and covering your cough or sneeze, standard practices to reduce the spread of germs.
The CDC also stresses that while rates of AFM are increasing, it’s still an incredibly rare disease.