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Rare, polio-like disease hits two kids in NYC

Acute Flaccid Myelitis Has Been Spreading Since 2014

November 29, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This map shows confirmed cases of Acute Flaccid Myelitis across the U.S., as of Nov. 23, 2018. Two cases have been confirmed in NYC. Map courtesy of CDC
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Children with paralyzed arms or legs, muscle weakness or slurred speech: A rare disease that resembles polio and affects mostly children has spread to New York City, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed.

Two cases of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) are the first to be identified in the city. In addition, CDC confirmed six cases in New Jersey. Dozens of other cases in the state are being investigated but have not yet been confirmed by clinical testing.

CDC is investigating hundreds of cases across 31 states and DC, with 116 confirmed as of this week. The number of reports has been growing since 2014, when it first hit CDC’s radar.

On November 13, CDC announced a new task force to investigate the mysterious outbreak.

“I want to reaffirm to parents, patients, and our nation CDC’s commitment to this serious medical condition,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.  “This task force will ensure that the full capacity of the scientific community is engaged and working together to provide important answers and solutions to actively detect, more effectively treat, and ultimately prevent AFM and its consequences.”

The disease attacks the spinal cord, resulting in muscular weakness and paralysis in arms and legs and slurred speech. Cases are still quite rare, however — fewer than 1 in a million children are affected. But those who are infected suffer life-altering consequences. Some children need ventilators to breathe.

While the illness resembles polio, patients test negative for polio virus. There is no known cause and no cure, as of yet. The majority of patients are between the ages of two and eight.

Starts out like a cold or flu

CDC has learned several important facts about AFM since 2014, CDC spokesperson Kate Fowlie told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday.

The children’s initial symptoms are similar to those associated with viral infections, she said. In addition, most patients developed AFM in the late summer and fall.

More than 90 percent of the patients with AFM had a mild respiratory illness or fever consistent with a viral infection before they developed AFM.

“At this time of year, many children have fever and respiratory symptoms. Most of them do not go on to develop AFM,” Fowlie said. “We’re trying to figure out what are the exact triggers that would cause someone to develop AFM.”

CDC is urging doctors to watch for early signs of limb weakness in patients with fever, respiratory symptoms, and to quickly send this information to their health departments. Parents and caregivers should seek medical care right away if their children develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Tuesday called on Congress to provide emergency funding for research, treatment and prevention efforts.

The New York City Department of Health did not respond by press time with locations of the outbreak in New York City. Check back for updates.

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