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A mysterious disease called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) has affected 116 people in 31 states this year, federal health officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that 2018 is up running for a record high rate for the little-understood syndrome.

The syndrome is a paralyzing disease, causing children to lose the ability to move their face, neck, back, arms or legs. The symptoms also include drooping face and eyelids, difficulty moving eyes and wallowing, and slurred speech. In severe cases, patients have had trouble breathing because of their weak muscles.

About 120 cases were confirmed in 2014, the first time such a wave occurred. Another 149 were reported in 2016. In 2015 and 2017, the counts were far lower and it’s not clear why.  The illnesses have spiked in September each year and then tailed off significantly by November but this year the number has kept growing, CDC reports.  

 

No one has died from it this year, but CDC officials said that at least half the patients do not recover from the paralysis and some have serious complications.

No one knows what’s causing the disease

The CDC still don't have a confirmed cause for AFM, which is marked by muscle weakness or paralysis caused by damage to the spinal cord but the damage is the type often caused by viruses.

Although the majority of patients have not tested positive for one specific virus, a family of viruses called enteroviruses is a prime suspect, especially one called EV-D68 that in most people causes cold symptoms, but they’re lacking clinical evidence.

CDC officials have checked the spinal fluid of about three-quarters of the patients and found EV-68 in only one. Another type of enterovirus called EV-A71 was found in only one other patient.

“If a virus is the cause, it’s possible the test is not good enough, or the germ left the spinal fluid by the time the tests were taken," said the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who is overseeing the agency’s outbreak investigation, in a statement.

Parents and even some scientists have criticized the agency for not solving the riddle.

“I understand why parents are frustrated, I’m frustrated and I want answers too,” said Messonnier.

“CDC officials have pledged to do more to notify doctors to look for possible cases and to more thoroughly review cases from years past for further clues,” she added.

If you notice a sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes following a fever in your child, you need to seek medical care immediately.