We have been following the spread of a mysterious, polio-like disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has named acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). The illness, the cause of which remains undetermined, continues to expand its range and public health officials have recorded 286 cases.

The mysterious, rare ‘polio-like’ disease blighting the US has now spread to 31 states, sickening at least 116 children.

And yet, officials still have no idea what causes acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), nor how to treat or prevent it.

The poorly understood illness, which can cause paralysis and, in rare cases, prove deadly, has struck Colorado the hardest, followed by Texas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating a further 170 cases of people with tell-tale symptoms of AFM.

There has already been more than three-and-a-half times as many cases as last year, but doctors remain baffled as to what is causing the illness.

Over 90 percent of people stricken with AFM are under 18, with 4 being the average age. Cases of the illness are now being reported in Canada.

One case of an unusual polio-like illness that targets children may have shown up in Alberta, but health officials say they can’t provide a definitive answer because the specific condition is not tracked.

According to Alberta’s deputy medical officer of health, Dr. Kristin Klein, a child was hospitalized in January with a possible case of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).

While the condition is not new, cases are on the rise in the United States and doctors in other parts of Canada say they’re starting to see cases, too.

Public health officials are alarmed at the spike in cases, the continued spread, and the fact that no specific pathogen has been tied to the disease. After 4 years of continuing reports of AFM, the CDC has recently announced a special task force is being created to focus on AFM.

“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,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said…

There has been a steady increase of confirmed cases of the illness since 2014. In 2016, there were 149 confirmed cases, CDC said.

The latest outbreak has gotten the attention of Congress, too. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked the CDC in October to investigate why the illness was spreading there.

The CDC has additional information on AFM, including the following recommendations:

Certain viruses are known to cause AFM including enteroviruses, such as poliovirus and enterovirus A71 (EV-A71), and West Nile virus.

  • You can protect yourself and your children from poliovirus by getting vaccinated. Polio vaccine contains inactivated (not live) virus, and protects against poliovirus. This vaccine does not protect against other viruses that may cause AFM.
  • You can protect against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).
  • You can protect yourself and others from enteroviruses by washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, including toys.