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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed frustration and concern Tuesday about a puzzling surge in cases of polio-like paralysis, mostly in children, being reported across the country this year.

The agency said 127 cases of acute flaccid myelitis have been reported so far in 2018. To date, 62 of those cases, from 22 states, have been confirmed; investigations of the others are ongoing.


The mysterious increase in cases of AFM, as it’s called, was first spotted in the late summer and autumn of 2014. There have been cases each year since, but the numbers have been higher on alternate years. This year is one of them.

Since the cases were first recognized in 2014, there have been 386 cases in the United States, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters. Most of the cases are in children under the age of 19, with kids under the age of 4 appearing to make up the biggest portion of cases.

“We have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases,” Messonnier admitted. “There is a lot we don’t know about AFM, and I’m frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness.”


She said the CDC and research partners are casting a wide net trying to figure out what is causing the rise in cases, suggesting scientists have been looking at a variety of viruses and even environmental toxins in their search.

“We’re actually looking at everything. And certainly after three cycles of this, when we’ve looked through all the normal agents, we’re looking beyond that to see if there are things beyond normal infectious diseases that could cause this,” said Messonnier. “This is a mystery so far, and we haven’t solved it yet, so we have to be thinking broadly.”

AFM is a condition in which the gray matter of the spinal cord becomes damaged, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis in one or multiple limbs. Symptom onset is generally quite sudden, and Messonnier urged parents to seek medical care quickly for children displaying these symptoms.

In some cases children have recovered, but in others the paralysis has lingered.

Messonnier said the CDC has definitively ruled out polio — which causes a similar set of symptoms — as the cause. Testing of affected children has turned up a smattering of infections — some by enteroviruses, which is the broad family to which polioviruses belong, but also rhinoviruses, which cause head colds. No one finding can explain all the cases, she said.

Messonnier stressed that while she understands how frightening this situation is for parents, they should remember that the infections are, in fact, rare. Since the phenomenon began in 2014, she said, the rate of infections has been less than one case per 1 million children in the country.

  • I’m spitballing here. The precise two-year cycle is unique. The cause must line up with a similar cycle. School vaccinations occur in September, but they happen every year. There are some insects like the budworm and some varieties of cicadas that have a two-year cycle. Pink salmon reach maturity in two years and spawn in August and September. Could there be a virus that infected a large population of pink salmon that is passed from adult to hatchlings?

    Other two-year cycles
    Elections – Could contaminated voting equipment spur disease 10 months after use? not likely.
    Olympics – they occur in even-numbered years, but they are not every 24 months.

  • AFM is NOT a mysterious illness. Many, many vaccine manufacturer inserts list myelitis as an adverse event from the vaccines.. Funny how the timing of this outbreak coincides with back to school vaccinations. Why won’t the agencies charged with protecting our health acknowledge this and look into it. Never a mention from them of this causation. The CDC’s credibility is sinking even further.

  • Maybe we should be a little concerned, it doesn’t look as if our CDC is taking this seriously. Local newspapers certainly and a lot of mass media have not covered a potentially communicable disease. In Post Science America, they don’t care, it is just a few kids.

  • I think the early age which forms the largest segment points toward a genetic cause. As does the small number of cases, because inborn errors of metabolism are usually quite rare. I’d guess either a form of atypical PKU (a.k.a. tetrahydrobiopterin deficiency) or a problem with B-12 metabolism. Either can manifest as dystonia.

  • Are there clusters of disease in certain of the 22 states with affected children? Which states have reported cases of AFM? Is this the EV-D68 which affected people in the Southwest–Arizona, New Mexico, near the Mexican border?

  • Treat possible spinal, cerebral and neuromuscular junction Staphyloccocus aureus and Lyme disease lesions in patients under age 8 with Cleocin (Clindamycin). Plenty of salt water taffy. Topical saline is safer, cheaper and more effective at treating MRSA of the skin than the right antibiotic (doxycycline or clindamycin for children under age 8), but deforming lesions of the spine and brain are internal. Medical CBD cannabis oil has been highly effective at curing similar hopeless cases of neurological and oncologic disease in young children. Cleocin deprivation by nosocomial hospital Staph requires constant blogging to redress non-self-incrimination. Thanks for the single non-member blog out of dozens of articles.

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