Two Cases of Rare Illness Targeting Nervous System Confirmed in Wisconsin

Three-year-old Carter Abernathy is among the almost 130 patients across the country who have been diagnosed with AFM.

Medical researchers across the country have formed an informal network to figure out what's causing an outbreak of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) cases.

At least 155 suspected cases of AFM have been reported. The illness affects a person's nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, and can cause weakness in the arms or legs. "While we know that these can cause AFM, we have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases", Messonier said. In a press conference on October 16, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said that the increase of AFM patients - there are 72 confirmed cases at the moment - "is a mystery". "The reason why we don't know about AFM - and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness - we continue to investigate to better understand the clinical picture of AFM cases, risk factors and possible causes of the increase in cases". However, a cause for AFM can not always be identified. AFM can prove deadly if the patient loses the ability to breathe for themselves. Most of the cases reported so far are people under 18 years of age.

No one's entirely certain what causes AFM, but there appears to be an association between enterovirus (which is a virus similar to the common cold) and the illness.

And several CDC advisors say that the organization needs to look deeper into enteroviruses like EV-D68.

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The first time that AFM caused a public concern was back in 2014, when there was an outbreak of 120 cases that coincided with an outbreak of EV-D68 as well.

Other experts feel that enteroviruses are likely to blame for AFM, and should be paid more attention in treatment, prevention and testing.

In recent days, news about a sudden rise in a polio-like illness, called acute flaccid myelitis, among children in Canada and the US has been striking fear in parents.

Dr Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease expert in Cleveland, Ohio, said that many children will recover quickly on their own. "You can see enterovirus particles in the motor neurons". The agency is investigating another 119 patients in connection with the disease, which causes symptoms including sudden arm and leg weakness, loss of muscle tone, facial weakness or drooping and difficulty swallowing or speaking. One day they will start off with the same symptoms of a cold and the next day they can't walk and they've got polio-like symptoms.

For both groups of patients, he has found that aggressive physical therapy starting soon after hospitalization, including electrically stimulating muscles to force them to contract, leads to the best recoveries.

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