6 kids in Minnesota develop rare ‘polio-like’ illness and officials don’t know why

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WATCH: Six children from Minnesota, including Quinton Hill, 7, have been diagnosed with a rare but potentially severe condition. – Oct 9, 2018

Six children in Minnesota have been diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) — a rare, polio-like illness.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) issued a statement regarding the cases, adding AFM is a rare but potentially severe condition.

“AFM is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system, causing muscles to weaken,” the statement said. “It can be a complication following a viral infection, but environmental and genetic factors may also contribute to its development.”

In some cases, it can lead to paralysis or death.

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“For reasons not fully understood, AFM affects mainly children. All recent Minnesota cases have been in children under 10 years old and all were hospitalized.”

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Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at MDH, recently told Time magazine the cases are “a striking departure from the norm.” She added it’s not clear what the cause could be.

‘It’s been very scary’

One of the Minnesota children with the disorder is seven-year-old Quinton Hill. His father, James Hill, said the experience has been “very scary.”

Quinton Hill and his parents.

“There’s not much that can be done and as a parent that’s very difficult to deal with,” he told NBC affiliate Kare 11. “Just to have him lift his head up a bit more to look to the side was a blessing, because we didn’t know if that was coming back.”

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The MDH noted AFM can cause neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop, as well as difficulty swallowing or speaking clearly.

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The Hill family said they feel helpless, mostly because doctors themselves know very little about the illness. “There’s a group on Facebook with a few hundred parents who are dealing with this and that helps,” Hill told the broadcaster. “We want to tell others that they’re not alone in this.”

Acute flaccid myelitis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted possible causes of AFM include viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders. Viruses like poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, West Nile virus and adenoviruses have previously been linked to AFM.

The organization added there is no treatment for AFM, but depending on the case, visiting a neurologist can help.

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“Neurologists may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness caused by AFM. We do not know the long-term outcomes (prognosis) of people with AFM.”

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And while the specific cause is unclear, it is hard for health professionals to recommend prevention tips. Because it could be linked it poliovirus and West Nile virus, the CDC recommended getting children vaccinated and proper hand hygiene.

The last time there was an uptick of cases in the U.S. was in 2014, the MDH added. “Disease investigators believe this was linked to an outbreak of a respiratory illness in children that was caused by a virus known as enterovirus D 68 (EVD68). Minnesota saw three AFM cases that year. Since then, we have typically seen less than one case a year.”

Global News has reached out to Health Canada to find out if there is any danger of this illness spreading to Canada.