A new report from CNN has revealed that more than half of all U.S. states have confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, this year.
After reaching out to health departments in every U.S. state, CNN said that it discovered 30 states with confirmed, suspected, or currently being investigated cases of AFM. These include 15 states that said they had confirmed cases of the rare illness this year.
There were 47 confirmed cases of AFM and 49 more that are suspected or are being investigated, bringing the number to 96.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases only the confirmed numbers and has so far said that 16 states had 38 cases of AFM as of September 30. The CDC did not identify the states affected.
According to CNN, Colorado has the highest number of cases with 14 confirmed cases. It is followed by Texas with eight, and Minnesota with six.
The states that reported or confirmed cases are Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The states with suspected cases or cases that are under investigation are Nevada, New York, Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington.
The polio-like illness affects the nervous system, particularly the area of the spinal cord known as gray matter, causing the muscles and reflexes of the body to become weak. It can cause paralysis and mostly affects young children.
The condition is rare, affecting fewer than one in a million people annually across the country but the CDC said that it has seen an increase in cases since 2014.
It is not yet clear what caused the majority of the cases but the 2014 spike coincided with a national outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by the enterovirus D68. Enterovirus D68, however, was not found in all of the patients.
“The most common etiology is probably a viral infection that starts off the process, and there’s probably several different viruses that can cause acute flaccid myelitis,” said Samuel Dominguez, from the Children’s Hospital Colorado.
The CDC also identified other potential causes, which include environmental toxins and genetic disorders.
Symptoms of the illness may include facial droop or weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, slurred speech and difficulty with swallowing.
“The most severe symptom of AFM is respiratory failure that can happen when the muscles involved with breathing become weak,” the CDC said. “In very rare cases, it is possible that the process in the body that triggers AFM may also trigger other serious neurologic complications that could lead to death.”