The CDC has assembled a task force to address a rare polio-like disease which has affected hundreds of children across 29 states.
A total of 106 cases of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) have been confirmed by the CDC, out of 273 reports of the affliction which, according to the Daily Mail, has emerged as a major public health threat every other year since 2014.
The rare disease affects the nervous system, "specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter, which causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak," according to the CDC. Symptoms include a facial droop, arm or leg weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids and difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech. It appears to start off like a common cold, before victims eventually progress to paralysis.
"We have not been able to find the cause of the majority of AFM cases...and we're frustrated that we haven't been able to identify the cause of illness," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC's director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The states Daily Mail Online is currently aware of with confirmed cases includes: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.
A press officer for the CDC told Daily Mail Online last week that the agency would not be naming the additional states where cases have been confirmed due to 'privacy issues'.
While the pattern of AFM most resembles an infectious disease, much remains unknown about the condition. -Daily Mail
In response, the CDC task force will investigate the driving forces behind AFM, possible treatments, and to establish post-AFM aftercare.
"I want to reaffirm to parents, patients, and our Nation CDC's commitment to this serious medical condition," said CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD. "This Task Force will ensure that the full capacity of the scientific community is engaged and working together to provide important answers and solutions to actively detect, more effectively treat, and ultimately prevent AFM and its consequences." Redfield says AFM is the agency's top priority.
The rare condition affects one in a million people in the United States, and the average age of those stricken is four years old. Over 90% of cases overall are in children under the age of 18.
Scientists are investigating a number of causes, including viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders.
In previous outbreaks, a virus called EV-D68 was implicated in the development of AFM.
'We know that EV-D68 - as well as other enteroviruses - can cause limb weakness, but we don't know what's triggering AFM in these patients,' said Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases last week. -Daily Mail
"We want to take advantage of all of [our] resources to figure out what is causing AFM," said Messonnier, who said that the presence of pathogens in the spinal fluid is one of the best indicators of AFM - however that doesn't necessarily mean that the pathogens are the cause.
"It could be one of the viruses we've detected, or it could a virus we haven't detected, or it could be that [viruses are] kicking off another process" - such as an autoimmune disease or response - "that is triggering AFM," Messonnier added, according to the Mail.
Scientists don't think the disease is transmissible from human to human, and it is unknown why some children recover from their paralysis while others don't. So far there have been no deaths in the 2018 outbreak, however Messonnier did acknowledge that "we have not been following every single AFM patient diagnosed in previous years."
"It's a gap in our understanding. We don't understand the long-term effects' but now she says the agency intends to 'follow-up with patients that have gotten [AFM] in previous years," she said.