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Health Officials See Rise In Polio-Like Illness Affecting Texas Children

CDC/ Holly Patrick, MS, MPH
A CDC researcher works with inactive poliovirus. Polio can cause acute flaccid myelitis, but none of the Texas children who had the illness in 2018 have tested positive for polio.

Texas has reported the most cases nationwide of a mysterious polio-like illness in 2018.

The Department of State Health Services said there were 27 cases of acute flaccid myelitis throughout the state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Ohio had the next highest number of cases with 12.

AFM mostly impacts children and is associated with the sudden onset of a collection of symptoms, including arm and leg weakness, loss of muscle tone reflexes, and — in some cases — drooping eyelids, a facial droop, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.

There has been an uptick in AFM every two years since 2014. San Antonio Metro Health Assistant Director Anita Kurian said, in the past, AFM has been associated with polio and other enteroviruses, as well as West Nile virus, but none of the children who've been sick since 2014 have tested positive for those viruses.

That means public health experts don't have much in the way of advice for how to keep kids from getting it, Kurian said.

"Other than make sure you're up to date on your vaccines, you're protected against West Nile transmission by avoiding mosquito bites, and for enterovirus make sure you practice good hand hygiene," she added.

As for the prognosis for children who are struck with this ailment, Kurian said: “Some of them recover. Some of them continue to have weaknesses. We’ve not seen a death yet, but death is also a rare outcome with these conditions, mainly because of respiratory failure.”

Kurian stressed that even with the sudden rise in cases, AFM is still rare. It impacts fewer than one in a million children.

However, because the cause remains a mystery, the CDC has asked doctors to report any suspected cases of AFM in their practices so its task force can investigate, and eventually figure out what's causing it.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at bonnie@tpr.org or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie