Polio-like Virus Hits Northern Illinois

Oct 24, 2018

Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

It has stumped doctors and it's worrying parents: Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM). A rare condition that affects the nervous system and results in symptoms similar to polio. Illinois has ten clinically diagnosed cases of the virus that has now been confirmed in 22 states across the country so far in 2018. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to determine a cause. According to its website, from August 2014 through September 2018 there have been a total of 386 confirmed cases of AFM in the United States. A majority of the cases have occurred in children. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Health Department, said parents should be concerned, but the disease is incredibly rare. 

“AFM is very rare," said Shah. "Even with the new uptick in cases, the risk is still about one in a million.”

Some patients diagnosed with AFM have made a full recovery, while others still suffer from paralysis and other health-related complications. The CDC has not determined why this is the case, nor does it know of any long-term effects of the disease. 

Shah says the best thing parents can do is to "continue being good parents." 

“Make sure you keep your children up to date on their vaccines," he said. "Make sure that you encourage good health habits, like hand washing. And, if your children develop weakness in their arms or their legs, especially if they’ve had a cold, take them to their doctor immediately.”

At this time, experts have not seen any correlation with children who are vaccinated versus unvaccinated who are contracting AFM.

According to Shah, the leading theory for the cause of AFM is that it often follows some type of illness, like the common cold. However, not every case has always been followed by a cold. The CDC is also exploring environmental toxins or genetic factors as a possibility.

Despite the similarity in symptoms, all AFM cases have tested negative for poliovirus. 

The CDC has found some seasonal trends in the U.S. Cases typically begin to pick up at the end of summer and peak in the fall. At this time there is no geographical clustering in the country. However, in Illinois, a majority of the cases are spread across the northern part of the state. 

The CDC has not confirmed the ten cases in Illinois are actually AFM yet, but IDPH expects confirmation in the next couple weeks. 

Prior to this year, Illinois has had 4 confirmed cases since 2014.