CDC Issues Alert for Uptick in Rare Polio-Like Disease Affecting Kids

3D rendering of acute flaccid myelitis3D rendering of acute flaccid myelitis
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a warning of the possible increase in cases of a rare, neurological condition among children that is similar to polio.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a warning of a potential increase in cases of a rare condition among children that is similar to polio, according to a recently released health alert.

The alert detailed a rise in severe respiratory illness this fall that can lead to a condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM.)

According to the CDC, AFM is a severe neurological condition that affects the nervous system — specifically the spinal cord —  and causes loss of reflexes, a sudden unexplained weakness or paralysis of the arms or legs, with more than 90% of cases occurring in young children.

"The warning sign is often, a child who's recovering from a routine illness and then the recovery stops looking like what you would expect — they're now getting worse again, and especially if they become weak," Dr. Matt Elrick told ABC News. Elrick is an assistant professor of neurology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute who specializes in AFM. 

"This is exceptionally rare even during an outbreak so it's not something that should necessarily keep everyone up at night," Elrick continued. 

"But if your child has an illness and was recovering and is now getting worse again, or not behaving in the way that you might expect the normal recovery from illness to be, that's a good reason to go see the pediatrician and sort out what's going on."

Cases of AFM typically start in the late summer to early fall. 

As of Sept. 2, there were 13 confirmed cases across nine states this year.

The CDC previously saw an increase in AFM in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

"We really thought this was going to happen in 2020, because we had the last spike in 2018," Dr. Sarah Hopkins, a pediatric neurologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told NBC News. "But then with mask-wearing and social distancing and all those things that limit the spread of a respiratory virus, we didn't have that expected spike."

Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist at UT Southwestern's O'Donnell Brain Institute, told the outlet that it is likely cases will increase with in-person school gearing back up.

"We have a group of kids now who've never seen the virus, because they weren't having school exposures. So we think the at-risk population is bigger than in 2020," he told the outlet.

According to the CDC, there is no vaccine or antiviral medicine available, so health professionals will offer typical treatments. 

The CDC said people should continue standard practices to reduce the spread of germs, including washing hands with soap and water, covering your cough or sneeze, and staying up-to-date on recommended vaccines. The CDC also said to contact a health care provider immediately if you or your child have trouble breathing or sudden limb weakness.

While rates of AFM are increasing, the disease is still very rare, according to the CDC. 

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