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Mysterious, polio-like illness now reported in Maryland children

File photo. (AP Photo/Joey Ivansco)

A virus that health officials have described as polio-like has now shown up in Maryland.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating dozens of cases of acute flaccid myelitis across the country. Now, five children in Maryland have AFM symptoms, the Maryland Department of Health tells The Baltimore Sun.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, says they’ve seen a spike this year, and every two years since 2014, in Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or AFM.

“It’s a nervous system-type disorder which results in weakness in muscles, hence they call it acute flaccid myelitis,” he explained.

AFM "affects the nervous system, specifically the area of spinal cord called gray matter, which causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak," according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Symptoms include the sudden onset of arm or leg weakness, facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes and difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech. The most severe symptom is respiratory failure that can happen when the muscles involved with breathing become weak.

He compares the symptoms to what a person might experience with Polio.

“You have the acute onset of sudden weakness in the limbs and other parts of the body,” Dr. Fauci said.

So far, they don’t know what’s causing it but he says it’s happening mostly in children.

“The only thing to do is to try to do the most health-related things possible with regard to infections,” Dr. Fauci explained. “Wash your hands the way we tell you to do during flu season, washing hands often is important. Stay away from crowded places where there are a lot of sick people.”

He also recommends keeping up with vaccinations.

“This occurs in one in a million people, so the chances of your child getting this are extraordinarily low,” he said.

CNN reports that 30 states have AFM cases that are either confirmed, suspected or being investigated.

The CDC says they have confirmed 38 total cases country-wide this year, as of September 30.

States reporting suspected cases or cases under investigation are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington.

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