More and more cases of a rare polio-like illness are being reported across the country, according to news reports.
In recent weeks, six cases of the illness, known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), have been diagnosed in children in Minnesota — a state the typically sees less than one case of AFM per year, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. On Tuesday (Oct. 9), a hospital in Pittsburgh said it is currently treating three children with suspected AFM, according to local news outlet KDKA. And yesterday (Oct. 10), the Illinois Department of Public Health said it had received recent reports of nine children diagnosed with the condition.
Also this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that 14 cases of AFM have occurred in the state this year.
AFM is a condition that affects the nervous system and causes muscle weakness, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In particular, the condition can cause weakness in the arms and legs along with loss of muscle tone and problems with reflexes. Other symptoms include facial drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech, the CDC says. Most cases are in children.
The condition is not new, but officials started to see a rise in cases in 2014. Since then, more than 350 cases of the illness have been reported in the U.S. over a four-year period. So far this year, there have been 38 cases in 16 states, the CDC says.
The cause of AFM, and the reason for the rise in cases starting in 2014, is not known. However, the 2014 cases coincided with a national outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a virus called enterovirus D68. It's possible that AFM has a variety of causes, including viruses (such as poliovirus and enteroviruses), environmental toxins and genetic disorders, the CDC says.
The condition is still very rare, occurring in fewer than one in a million people in the U.S. each year, the CDC says.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.