Health

Two cases of AFM, a rare, polio-like illness, confirmed in Iowa

Spike in acute flaccid myelitis seen nationwide

Olga Buiter encourages her daughter, Zoe, to try and use her right arm while they play at their home in Northwest Seattle on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. The seven-month-old was recently diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or mystery paralysis, after her parents noticed she had stopped using her right arm. She can sometimes move her fingers or do slight movements, but mostly lets it hang limp. (Rebekah Welch/The Seattle Times/TNS)
Olga Buiter encourages her daughter, Zoe, to try and use her right arm while they play at their home in Northwest Seattle on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. The seven-month-old was recently diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or mystery paralysis, after her parents noticed she had stopped using her right arm. She can sometimes move her fingers or do slight movements, but mostly lets it hang limp. (Rebekah Welch/The Seattle Times/TNS)

The state of Iowa confirmed this week two cases of a mysterious polio-like illness that has baffled public health officials across the country.

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 62 cases of acute flaccid myelitis, commonly referred to as AFM, in 22 states. The rare but serious condition affects the gray matter in the spinal cord, causing sudden muscle weakness and loss of reflexes.

On Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed two reports of AFM in Iowa this year. Both cases were in children, one in central Iowa and another in the western part of the state that still is being investigated.

The CDC is investigating a total of 127 cases nationwide, including the 62 confirmed cases, Kaiser Health News reported. The average age of patients reported having AFM is 4 years old, and at least 90 percent of the cases are among those 18 and younger.

This year’s outbreak is the third spike in AFM in four years — once in 2014, in 2016 and now in 2018, according to the CDC. The CDC has seen 386 confirmed cases across the U.S. — mostly in children — from August 2014 through September 2018.

However, federal health officials do not fully understand the disease, including it’s cause.

AFM is known to have been caused by other viruses, such as polio or West Nile, but for the majority of cases, the cause has not been identified, the CDC says. All of the AFM cases since 2014 have tested negative for poliovirus, the CDC says on its website.

What federal officials do know is the disease is not caused by any pathogen but may instead be linked to environmental toxins, genetic disorders or other types of viruses.

It’s also unclear who is at most risk to have AFM and the long-term effects.

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U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, along with Minnesota’s U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, sent a joint letter to the CDC calling on the federal department to respond to the spike in cases in Iowa and Minnesota. According to the letter, seven children were diagnosed in recent weeks in the two states.

“Because the causes of AFM are unknown, we urge the CDC to provide more information immediately about preventive measures and treatments,” the letter reads.

Patients infected with AFM will experience a sudden onset of leg and arm weakness, according to the CDC. Symptoms also include facial weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty moving the eyes, and difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

If patients presents symptoms consistent with AFM, they are encouraged to call the state health department’s Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology at 800-362-2736.

According to the news release, public health officials will work with providers to collect specimens and patient history.

For more information on AFM, visit cdc.gov/acute-flaccid-myelitis/index.html

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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