9 confirmed cases of polio-like illness in Illinois, but cases remain rare

CHICAGO — We’ve been reporting about the polio-like illness affecting two children here in Chicago, nine in northern Illinois and others across the country, but how concerned should parents be about the spread to their children?

Acute Flacid Myelitis or paralysis (AFM) is a rare disorder that is increasing in prevalence. The condition was first described in 2014 and doctors assumed a virus was to blame, but they didn’t know which one. Without a known culprit, there is no vaccine, prevention or cure.

AFM typically affects young children and creates polio-like symptoms. Weakness occurs because inflammation of the spinal cord disrupts the normal responses from the brain to the body, including the lungs, which can lead to breathing problems for patients.

"They may have a little bit of a facial droop similar to what we see with a bell’s palsy because those muscles are affected. They may have difficulty moving their eyes and some have slurred speech or difficulty swallowing; so very rare symptoms that you wouldn’t expect to see in a child, so can be picked up very quickly," said Dr. Kevin Most, Northwestern.

Children may experience permanent damage, but others recover use of their limbs. Adults have likely been exposed to the virus that causes this and have some sort of immunity.

"It’s extremely uncommon this is not something that parents should be concerned about sending their children from school or anything but it’s time to get back to the basics of how we prevent viruses from spreading," Dr. Most said.

Among the simple things Dr. Most said parents can do is encouraging kids to wash their hands, teaching them to cover their mouths with their elbow when they cough or sneeze, and keep them home if they are sick.