Acute flaccid myelitis is a polio-like condition that can paralyze people, most of which are children. Unfortunately, health officials say that cases of this condition are on the rise right now. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been at least 219 reports and 80 confirmed cases across 25 states. And the CDC reports that approximately 90 percent of these cases have been among children under the age of 4.
Outside researchers agree with the CDC that this year appears to be on track to report the highest number of cases ever. While outbreaks of the condition appear to fluctuate every year (with highs every other year), the most recent surge of notable size was in 2016, with 149 CDC-confirmed cases, which dropped to 33 cases in 2017. In 2014, the CDC confirmed upwards of 120 cases but only 22 confirmed cases in 2015.
While the CDC has been able to track the up and down trend for this conditions, they are still unsure what is causing the rise in reported cases. Some patients have also been infected with EV-D68, a typically harmless common cold called by an enterovirus; but there is not all patients diagnosed with positive acute flaccid myelitis have also been diagnosed with EV-D68.
Still, researchers and doctors—medical professionals—outside the CDC firmly believe that enterovirus is the cause of acute flaccid myelitis in these cases. Of course, that means we still do not know what is causing the condition in the AFM-negative cases.
To determine the proficiency of the condition, researchers test spinal fluid for pathogens. If they can find the presence of said pathogen in the spinal fluid it will provide solid evidence for the cause of AFM since it affects the spinal cord.
On the other hand, some researchers assuage that testing spinal fluid may not be the best way to look for a respiratory virus as the cause of the symptoms of AFM: symptoms like paralysis and muscle weakness. Instead, they advise that doctors should take respiratory swabs in addition to blood and stool samples as quickly as possible after a patient reports symptoms.