Polio-like illness causing paralysis in children reaches the Carolinas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A polio-like illness that can cause paralysis in children is now here in the Carolinas.

Both North Carolina and South Carolina are among 30 states with confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis.

[CDC: acute flaccid myelitis]

Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster learned doctors at Levine Children’s Hospital have treated kids with acute flaccid myelitis.

“There are cases where there could be some severe neurological conditions. Because of that, parents should be looking for signs and symptoms,” said Dr. Niraj Patel, Levine Children’s Hospital’s chief of pediatric infectious disease.

The symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, are similar to polio.

[North Carolina: acute flaccid myelitis]

Symptoms include sudden arm or leg weakness, loss of reflexes, facial droop, slurred speech and more.

The illness affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis. It is most common in kids.

“That’s scary,” said Brandy Hillian, a mother of seven. “That’s really scary, and I didn’t hear of it until today.”

AFM is rare, but more cases are being reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of confirmed cases has jumped 63 percent in the last month to 62 cases this year.

In North Carolina, there are three cases, one confirmed and two probable. In South Carolina, one case has been confirmed.

The CDC does not know the cause of AFM, why there has been an increase in cases since 2014 or the long-term effects of the illness.

“The sooner they find out where it comes from and how to protect kids, the better. That would make me feel safer,” said Jenny Kerns.

There is no specific treatment for AFM and there is no vaccine to prevent it. However, because in some cases other viruses have led to AFM, doctors say keeping kids up-to-date with vaccinations and commonsense measures like handwashing may help prevent the illness.

The CDC is actively investigating these cases and working with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to spread the word about AFM.

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