Five children in Maryland have contracted symptoms of an illness similar to polio this fall, according to the state health department.
The cases are among dozens of possible instances of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating across the country. The condition affects the nervous system and has polio-like symptoms.
This year, five children in Maryland have come down with AFM symptoms, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The first case in Maryland this year was contracted Sept. 21, a spokeswoman for the department said in an email.
The disease affects the spinal cord and can cause weakness and pain in the arms and legs. Symptoms can also include facial droop and weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or difficulty swallowing and slurred speech. Some patients may not be able to urinate.
Rarely, people with AFM can suffer respiratory failure and require ventilator support when their breathing muscles become too weak. And in very rare cases, AFM can trigger fatal neurological complications, according to the CDC.
Some patients recover quickly, while others experience paralysis and require ongoing care.
Most cases affect children.
Across the U.S., there were 38 confirmed cases in 16 states this year through Sept. 30, according to the CDC.
The CDC will determine whether the suspected cases in Maryland are AFM based on clinical information and lab tests, a spokeswoman for the state health department said in an email.
The disease has been on the rise in the U.S. since 2014, but it remains rare. Between August 2014 and September 2018, 362 cases were confirmed by the CDC.
The CDC has not traced the illness to a specific virus, but the agency said it has a variety of causes including viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders. Viruses that can cause the disease include poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses and West Nile virus.
The CDC is investigating the cases and monitoring the disease, and encourages people to prevent the disease by staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and protecting against mosquito bites.