Altoona, Pa. - The CDC is now reporting at least 80 confirmed cases of a polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis or AFM in 25 states, including Pennsylvania. There are more than 100 suspected cases. AFM starts as a cold, but goes on to cause sudden weakness and sometimes paralysis.
Altoona Infectious Disease Specialist Dr Robert Sullivan says the illness is one of several caused by the enterovirus.
"Enterovirus is a virus that circulates all the time, but it seems like it's more prevalent in the fall months in autumn," he explains.
He's never seen a case of AFM, but he frequently treats other serious illnesses, such as viral meningitis, that are caused by the same virus.
Doctors say AFM can happen to any healthy child, but they don't know why some develop it and others don't. Fortunately AFM is very rare, and most children who do develop it get better on their own.
There's no specific treatment for AFM. The best way to prevent it is to wash your hands, stay home when you're sick, and cover coughs and sneezes. Dr. Sullivan says however, like other viruses, it can be difficult to head off.
"The flu virus is spread and even all viruses are spread so effectively. because it spreads and then, even before you know you have anything, you're getting ill," he says.
It's important to remember that although AFM is often referred to as a polio-like illness, it's not polio, it just has similar symptoms.
AFM itself is not contagious, but the viruses that are believed to cause it may be spread from one person to another, or even by a mosquito, depending on which virus causes the AFM.