Mysterious polio-like illness baffles medical experts while frightening parents

This year, more than half of all U.S. states have had confirmed or possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like illness that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children, according to an exclusive CNN analysis.

"This remains a rare syndrome, but the similarities to poliomyelitis, polio-like illness, are concerning and bear close monitoring", Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, told ABC News in an interview. "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said.

The long-term effects of the disease are also unknown. Doctors at Children's have not seen an AFM patient needing a ventilator this year, but have treated such cases in the past, Benson said.

Cases have been on the rise since 2014.

The disease affects the spinal cord and can cause weakness and pain in the arms and legs.

The CDC has not traced the virus to a specific germ, but the agency said it has a variety of causes including viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders.

The MDH says the case is now being reviewed, and did not provide information regarding where in the state this particular case was diagnosed, or whether or not the child is in the hospital.

The cause is a mystery but the CDC and other officials have ruled out polio and West Nile virus.

AFM is extremely rare, with the CDC estimating that less than one in a million people in the United States will get AFM every year.

And for now, it's hard to say if 2018 will equal or surpass spikes seen in 2014 and 2016, Messonnier said, adding that state and federal health officials haven't finished the whole diagnostic algorithm for numerous cases reported over the past several weeks.

The disorder has been diagnosed in unvaccinated children and also in children who have received some of their recommended vaccinations, she said.

The agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk for developing this condition or the reasons they may be at higher risk.

"My husband that noticed her arm was kind of just hanging there", her mother, Carlene, said.

The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.

In 2014, a large AFM epidemic coincided with a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), but in-depth testing of patient samples hasn't consistently found a common cause. The average age of those afflicted is 4, and 90 percent of those with AFM are 18 or younger. "So we're very lucky that he had (physical therapy) through early intervention".

MA has seen a total of 16 confirmed cases in children since 2014, plus one probable case in an adult. Nor can they explain why only a handful of infected children developed AFM. But some state health departments have been making public their reported cases.

States are not required to provide this information to the CDC but have been voluntarily reporting their data.

Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Wm.

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