The cases in 2014 and 2016 were partly attributed to particular strains of respiratory germs called enteroviruses, which spread the most in the summer and fall.
Standardized surveillance was established in 2015 to monitor this illness and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence. There have been cases each year since, but the numbers have been higher on alternate years.
Most of these cases began in August and September, and 90 percent are in children, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a news conference today. Because the symptoms are similar, AFM is often confused with polio, a crippling and potentially fatal disease that is caused by a virus.
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.
"We're actually looking at everything". Some patients recover completely, while others continue to struggle with muscle weakness.
Asked about the discrepancy between the CDC's report of 22 states versus CNN's report of 30 states with cases, Messonnier said, "the 22 states that we're reporting are the states that have confirmed cases".
Messonnier stressed that while she understands how frightening this situation is for parents, they should remember that the infections are, in fact, rare.
"Right now, we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases", Messonnier said. "Parents need to know that AFM is rare even with the increase in cases we are seeing now". Those officials are probing another 65 illnesses in those states. She also said West Nile virus hasn't been linked to any of these cases, either.
While AFM is not unique to the US, Messonnier said, "no one else has seen seasonal clustering every other year". "As a parent myself, I understand what it's like to be scared for your child", she said.
She said that CDC has tested every stool specimen from AFM patients.
The CDC is not releasing a list of the 22 states with confirmed and suspected cases because of privacy issues.
The CDC says disease prevention steps should be followed, including staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and using mosquito repellant.
There is no specific treatment for AFM, but neurologists who specialize in treating brain and spinal cord illnesses may recommend certain interventions, such as physical or occupational therapy, on a case-by-case basis.
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