10 kids diagnosed with rare polio-like illness in Illinois

Ten children in Illinois have now been diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like condition, in Illinois.

Health officials said all the cases have come up in northern Illinois, and at least two of the children have been treated at Lurie Children’s Hospital. A 2-year-old from Batavia spent several weeks at the hospital and is now in a rehab facility.

The condition attacks the nervous system and can lead to arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle reflexes. It has received increased attention in recent weeks after health officials in Minnesota and Colorado saw spikes in reported cases, Illinois Public Health Department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.

The reported Illinois cases are preliminary diagnoses and only the U.S. Centers for Disease Control can confirm the diagnosis, according to Arnold. Until then, doctors are treating the cases as if they are AFM.

“The CDC has indicated there might be some increases in cases, and in mid-September we advised health care providers to be vigilant and report to the health department so that we can pass on the information to the CDC,” Arnold said.

Between August 2014 and August 2018, the CDC received information on a total of 362 confirmed cases of AFM nationwide. According to the CDC, the largest number of cases, about 50, were reported in September 2014 before dropping to single digits in following months. The number again spiked to about 45 in September 2016. There were about 15 cases reported in August 2018.

The agency said it hasn’t confirmed the cause for the majority of the cases, which primarily occur in children. However, it recommends practicing disease prevention measures, including staying up-to-date on vaccines and protecting yourself from mosquito bites.

Dr. Tina Tan, who specializes in infectious diseases and has attended to one of the children being treated for the illness, said the best advice for parents is to be vigilant and take note of concerning symptoms.

“If their child gets an enteroviral infection, they need to look for symptoms such as sudden onset of arm and leg weakness, difficulty swallowing. Sometimes slurring of the speech,” Tan said.