Rare ‘Polio-Like’ Illness Afflicts Six Kids in Minnesota

The mysterious disorder affects the spinal cord and can even cause paralysis.

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Doctors around the country may be preparing for flu season, but pediatricians in Minnesota have a bigger issue on their hands. Over the last month, six children in the state have contracted a rare ‘polio-like’ disease known as Acute Flaccid Myelitis. All of the children are under the age of 10, and two have been put on a respirator due to their weakened condition.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis, more commonly referred to as AFM, is an extremely rare and serious condition that attacks a person’s nervous system. It can even cause paralysis. There is no vaccine available for AFM and current treatments focus primarily on alleviating a patient’s symptoms. According to the Minnesota State Department of Health, the state usually sees around one case of AFM per year. Which is why an unexpected jump to six since mid-September has doctors worried.

In fact, the last time doctors noticed a spike in AFM was late 2014 when 120 people were diagnosed with the disease across 34 states. Since then, however, the disease has mostly been dormant. It’s believed that AFM is caused by a viral infection but the exact origin of the illness is not currently known. To ensure prevention, doctors encourage parents to pay attention to symptoms in their children, including: “limb weakness, facial drooping, and trouble swallowing.”

The CDC, which received information on 362 cases of AFM in America from August 2014 through August 2018, also encourages parents and children to practice basic disease prevention steps: make sure you and your family are up to date on all vaccinations, prevent mosquito bites, and regularly wash your hands.