Polio-Like Illness That Causes Paralysis Has Affected Children in at Least 16 States

Three cases were reported in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Doctor checking patient's heart beat
Photo: Getty

A polio-like illness that causes paralysis has affected children in several states, including Pennsylvania, Colorado, Illinois and Minnesota.

According to the CDC, 38 confirmed cases of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) — an illness that resembles polio in that it targets the nervous system and spinal chord and causes limp weakness, paralysis and respiratory failure — have appeared in 16 states in 2018 as of Sept. 30.

Three cases were reported in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ABC News reported. A spokesperson for UPMC Children’s Hospital, where the children are staying, told the outlet, “Isolation protocols and infection control procedures are in place, and we are working with the CDC and the Allegheny County Health Department to further monitor and evaluate the patient conditions.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment’s website says that 14 cases of AFM have appeared in the state this year — up from one per year since 2015 and 11 in 2014.

Most of the 14 Colorado residents’ illnesses were linked to enterovirus A71, and two were linked to enterovirus D68. Both are particular strains of polio’s virus family, according to ABC News.

In Chicago, two patients have come down with the illness, ABC7 reported. One of the patients, 2-year-old Julia Payne, is starting rehab after contending with the illness for almost one month.

“It’s really just a common cold virus and it attacked Julia’s body and spinal cord a certain way, and it seems to be happening to other kids too,” Josh Payne, Julia’s father, told ABC7.

The CDC reported 120 cases in 34 states in 2014, 22 cases in 17 states in 2015, 149 cases in 38 states and Washington, D.C., in 2016 and 33 cases in 16 states in 2017.

“The cause of most of the AFM cases remains unknown,” the CDC wrote. “We don’t know what caused the increase in AFM cases starting in 2014.”

The CDC lists facial droop/weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech as symptoms. The CDC added, “The most severe symptom of AFM is respiratory failure that can happen when the muscles involved with breathing become weak.”

In Minnesota, six children have been diagnosed with AFM since mid-September. James Hill, the father of 7-year-old AFM patient Quinton, told USA Today, “It’s been very scary.”

“There’s not much that can be done and as a parent that’s very difficult to deal with,” Hill added. “Just to have him lift his head up a bit more to look to the side was a blessing because we didn’t know if that was coming back.”

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“It’s something that’s very scary for people because it’s a polio-like illness and it can show up in otherwise healthy children,” Dr. Aaron Michael Milstone, the Associate Professor Pediatrics at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, told PEOPLE.

“If they have weakness in the leg, the child may not walk right, they may limp a little or if they have trouble holding up their arms,” Milstone warned. “That’s when they want to check in with their pediatrician.”

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