Polio-like illness has U.S. parents on edge

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A surge in cases of a polio-like illness has many parents concerned. Across the US, dozens of healthy children are coming into emergency departments, unable to move their arms and legs. As of mid-October, the CDC says 62 people, including 3 Georgians, have been diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

The Atlanta-based health agency is investigating into 65 additional possible cases. On its website, the CDC says it's "concerned" about AFM, because of the seriousness of the illness. Dr. Hansa Bharga, a WebMD Medical Editor, pediatrician, and mother of two, says she's worried, too.

"I think it's worrisome to see kids come down with a polio-like illness," Dr. Bhargava says.  "And, it's not polio. It's a polio-like illness."

The CDC says AFM is a neurologic illness that affects the spinal cord, causing arm and leg weakness.
Some people also have facial drooping and weakness, and difficulty moving their eyes, swallowing and speaking. The average age of those affected is 4.  And while some recover, others remain paralyzed.
The CDC has still not figured out what causes AFM, or who is most at risk of contracting the condition.

 "I think it is worrisome especially when we're not sure what's causing it," Dr. Bhargava says.

AFM is not new, but there has been a spike in cases in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
Some experts believe AFM is being caused by a summertime virus because of the timing of the outbreaks. The CDC says the cause could be a viral or triggered by an environmental toxin, or something else. Some of those affected have also tested positive for enterovirus D-68, a cousin of the poliovirus.
Bhargava says parents should aware of the symptoms, but not overly concerned.

"The good news that parents can take away, for now, is that it's very rare," Bhargava says.  "So, for every case there is, there are almost a million kids who don't have it."

Still, because there is not cause, or treatment,  Bhargava says, it makes sense to take precautions.

"Wash your hands," she says.  "Don't share drinks.  Don't be around anyone who is sick. And if you're sick, stay home. Because we're not sure what's causing it. It could just be a virus that is causing it."