Illinois on the brink of an outbreak of a polio-like illness in kids

Illinois on the brink of an outbreak of a polio-like illness in kids

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The Illinois Department of Health officials are investigating ten cases of children diagnosed with a new polio-like illness. The case reports are from individuals younger than 18 years of age and from northern Illinois.

Acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is a rare, but severe condition similar to viruses like polio and West Nile. It affects the nervous system of children, leading to paralysis.

There are a number of scientific theories about what causes AFM. Environmental toxins, genetic disorders, as well as enteroviruses are some potential culprits identified by doctors.

Illinois health officials said all ten patients started with what looked like a respiratory virus. “We’re recommending that parents who’ve had a child that has had a respiratory virus, and then in the days or weeks after that virus experience a rapid onset of limbs going limp, or paralysis, that they immediately go to a health care provider,” advised Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah.


“Illinois has monitored this syndrome since 2014 when it was first described by CDC. Since 2015, four cases reviewed by CDC experts have been counted in Illinois,” the IDHP said.

Parents who suspect their children have been affected by AFM should take a look at this infographic put together by CDC. Some symptoms to be on the lookout for include sudden arm or leg weakness, facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, or slurred speech.

There is no specific cure for AFM. Usually, neurologists recommend physical therapy for limb weakness or immunoglobulin replacement therapy. The causes of most AFM cases are also a mystery. Health experts believe some culprits might be environmental toxins, genetic disorders, as well as enteroviruses.

One of the most effective preventive measures against AFM seems to be the polio vaccine itself. Additionally, a simple step like using mosquito repellent can also protect people from mosquito-borne viruses such as West Nile virus.

Adams County health officials managed to keep a lid on the AFM epidemic.
“We’re are getting immunization, like polio vaccine which most children start when they are two years old, it is believed that a virus like polio or something similar could be one of the root causes,” explained Infectious Disease Supervisor John Campos with The Adams County Health Department.

Illinois is not the only one facing an AFM potential epidemic. So far in 2018, there are 62 confirmed cases of AFM in 22 states across the U.S.

The news puts a damper on the recent Illinois healthcare news announcement that 15 Illinois schools were named among “America’s Healthiest Schools.”

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