Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have taken the significant step of issuing a public warning about an outbreak of a mysterious new disease that causes symptoms that are eerily similar to polio, reports the Washington Post.
The peculiar illness causes weakness in the limbs, loss of muscle tone, and may also result in neck pain, headache, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and in the worst of cases, respiratory failure. The disease is being called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and although researchers suspect that it's caused by a virus, no virus has yet been discovered that's associated with the condition.
“There is a lot we don’t know about AFM, and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness," said Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the CDC.
As many as 127 confirmed or suspected cases of the disease have been identified this year across a region that includes 22 different states. Outbreaks are most common from August to October, and over 90 percent of the cases have involved children under 18 years old, with the average age of those inflicted standing at just 4 years old. It's another feature of the disease that's reminiscent of polio.
Chances of contracting AFM are low
As of yet, there is no known effective treatment for the condition, but the vast majority of patients do recover with treatment. It's also important to note that the number of known or suspected cases is small, so the odds of contracting the illness are extremely low. 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. Limb paralysis caused by the illness can worsen quickly, so it's also important that individuals experiencing these symptoms receive prompt medical attention.
Hopefully the root source mysterious disease can be pinpointed soon. Polio, while once widespread, has been largely eradicated due to the polio vaccine. AFM could experience a similar fate before it ever becomes a major emergency, if a virus can be identified.