Illness comparable to Polio spreads throughout the United States

Matthew Hovelsrud, staff writer

On Oct. 19, 2018, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released data illustrating that there is a spread of a polio-like illness in the United States. Currently, seven children, all under the age of ten, have similar confirmed diagnoses’ of AFM in Minnesota. This report has raised concern, because of how deadly and wide-spread Polio was. Polio is an incurable infectious disease commonly found in children. Polio is transmitted through contaminated water and food or contact with an infected person. The disease may manifest itself in a form of a mild illness with symptoms of headaches, fever, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Extreme cases of polio can result in temporary or permanent muscles weakness or motor paralysis, especially of the limbs and legs. Polio can affect the central nervous system with inflammation and sometimes the gray matter of the spinal cord and brainstem. Polio may become life-threatening when paralysis affects the muscles involved in breathing and swallowing.

In June of 1916, an official announcement of the existence of an epidemic Polio infection was made in New York. That year, there were over 27,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths caused by Polio in the United States, according to Our World In Data. After spending much time and money on research, a vaccine for Polio was created, and since then, it is essentially eradicated in almost all countries, with zero cases in the US in 2015.

This disease is called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM). AFM is a rare condition that affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, causing weakness in one or more limbs. AFM and neurologic conditions like it have a variety of causes, such as viruses and environmental toxins. 90% of confirmed cases are with children under the age of 18. In 2018, there have been a total of 155 patients under investigation with 62 confirmed cases of AFM, and the number is expected to grow.

However, 2018 has not been the worst year for AFM breakouts. In 2014 there were a reported 120 confirmed cases across 34 states, and in 2016, a total of 149 confirmed cases in 39 states and the District of Columbia according to the CDC.

There is very little knowledge about AFM and what causes it, why someone may be at risk, and if there is a vaccine that could someday eradicate the disease. Currently, the CDC, along with health care providers, are investigating and monitoring AFM activity. As there are few cases of AFM and little knowledge of what AFM is, the investigation phase of the disease is difficult.

Recently, Minnesota’s state epidemiologist has urged all parents with children to be aware of signs that could possibly be symptoms of AFM.

“Note if anything seems different in terms of the way they’re moving or the way they may be holding an arm or a leg or maybe talking about muscle pains or aches,” Jayne Griffith Minnesota’s state epidemiologist said in a statement.

Additionally, on Oct. 25, Senator Amy Klobuchar met with the Minnesota children diagnosed with AFM and their families to discuss steps towards finding a cause and cure.

Many EHS students, however, are not concerned about the spreading disease. “I do not [see a concern]. I think there are bigger problems facing Minnesotan and Americans. I get why people are scared of this because it is freaky and unknown,” sophomore Owen Kareken said. “I don’t think [it will spread to the degree polio did]. With modern medicine and the fact that it’s not such a big deal now.” Kareken said. In regards to solving the disease, Increased funding for AFM research is a questionable decision due to the low rate of affected people. “I think the money is better spent on other diseases that are widespread in the United States, like AIDS for example,” Kareken said.