Polio-like illness spreads to 31 states, no cases in Hawaii

  • 2018 confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) by state. (CDC/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii is not among the 31 states where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis — a polio-like disease.

As of Friday, the CDC reported 116 confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) with an additional 170 possible cases that remain under investigation.

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The agency also, for the first time, identified the states in which AFM cases have been confirmed. Nineteen states, including Hawaii, had no confirmed cases as of Friday.

The state with the highest number of confirmed cases was Colorado with 15, followed by Texas with 14. Washington, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania have each confirmed eight cases of AFM. A dozen states had only one confirmed case, according to the CDC.

Nationwide, the number of confirmed cases is up from early November when the CDC announced 80 confirmed cases of AFM across 25 states. At the end of September, the CDC reported 38 cases had been confirmed in 16 states.

The CDC has been monitoring and investigating an increasing number of cases of AFM since 2014. From August 2014 to Nov. 23, 440 cases have been confirmed, most frequently among children.

Last week, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield announced the establishment of an AFM task force to aid in the ongoing investigation “to define the cause of, and improve treatment and outcomes for, patients with AFM.”

The task force will bring together experts from a variety of scientific, medical, and public health disciplines to help solve the critical public health issue. Its first report is scheduled to be submitted Dec. 6.

Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare condition that affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, according to the CDC. A virus, a genetic disorder, and environmental toxins can cause it.

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Symptoms can be similar to those associated with polio virus and West Nile and include facial and eyelid drooping, facial weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, sudden limb weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in treating brain and spinal cord illnesses, may recommend interventions on a case-by-case basis.