Federal health officials have confirmed diagnoses of three Arkansas children with a rare, polio-like illness that can cause paralysis in the arms and legs, the state Department of Health announced Monday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnoses as part of its investigation into an increase in reported cases of the condition, known as acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, State Epidemiologist Dirk Haselow said.
The Arkansas children became ill this year, Health Department spokesman Meg Mirivel said. Two are from Northwest Arkansas and one is from central Arkansas, according to a department news release.
Two other children suspected of having AFM were found to not have the disorder, the release said.
The CDC has "identified that the number of cases exceeds what has occurred in the previous couple years, and now they are putting a lot of resources to this to get to the bottom of it as fast as feasible," Haselow said.
Symptoms of AFM include sudden arm or leg weakness, facial droop or weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty with swallowing and slurred speech.
Some children have regained mobility through treatments such as physical and occupational therapy, although it's rare for all of the ability to be restored, Haselow said.
The condition has been linked with West Nile virus and certain enteroviruses, with cases increasing in the fall and winter, but the cause in many instances isn't known, Haselow said.
"There's not been one virus that explains this large cluster, and that's what they're looking for," Haselow said, adding that the responsible virus is likely to be "newly described."
"That's sort of what makes this such a dramatic and frankly scary syndrome," Haselow said. "There's not a vaccine against this. It isn't entirely clear how people are getting it and why it's focusing on children."
He said practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands before you eat, can reduce the chance of getting certain viruses and could reduce the risk of developing AFM through one of those.
According to the CDC, the increase started in 2014, when 120 confirmed cases were reported in 34 states. The number of confirmed cases fell to 22 in 2015, rose again to 149 in 2016 then dropped to 33 last year. As of Nov. 2, 80 cases had been reported in 25 states.
Arkansas had one case each in 2016 and last year, Mirivel said. The department doesn't have a record of AFM cases in earlier years, she said.
Medical care should be sought right away for people with AFM symptoms, the department said in the release.
Metro on 11/06/2018
Print Headline: State confirms 3 children ill with paralyzing polio-like illness