The CDC will determine whether the suspected cases in Maryland are AFM based on clinical information and lab tests, a spokeswoman for the state health department said in an email.
The CDC said the condition isn't new, "but the increase in cases we saw starting in 2014 is new". More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and younger, with the average age being 4 years old.
"This is a mystery so far", the CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said in a call Tuesday with reporters. Although it is too early to understand how the current season compares to previous ones, she noted, the nation is "on track with what was seen in 2014 and 2016" and will probably have the same number of cases.
And despite the resemblance to polio, officials have ruled out poliovirus as a cause of the illnesses. Several cases have been linked to enteroviruses or other germs, but officials have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these cases. The disease affects the body's nervous system and can cause paralysis. Some patients will also experience facial weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or slurred speech.
No known cases have been reported in Virginia or the District this year, but there were three confirmed cases in Virginia in 2016, health department officials said. Some patients recover completely, while others continue to struggle with muscle weakness.
Still, because this is a "pretty dramatic disease", Messonnier said health officials want to raise awareness about the symptoms to make sure parents seek medical care immediately if their children show a sudden onset of weakness in their arms and legs. The CDC knows of one child who died with the disorder in 2017.
"AFM is a very rare and serious condition", Messonnier said, urging parents to take preventive steps such as encouraging hand washing, ensuring that children receive recommended vaccinations, and making sure they wear insect repellent. "We just don't know enough".
There is no specific treatment for AFM, but treatments that have been tried include immunoglobulin replacement therapy, corticosteroids, plasma exchange and antiviral therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But the agency doesn't know who may be at higher risk nor why they may be at higher risk.
About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid. It's a rare disease, but the CDC thought that they might glean more about the nature of the outbreak, as well as clues about how to contain it, by releasing a report to the public.
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