At first, it seemed like 4-year-old Laura Carson was suffering from a simple headache. Then came rapid shallow breathing, a tremor, double vision. Within days in August 2014, she was "a limp rag doll," reports Today—but it took doctors some time to diagnose her with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare disease the CDC warns is becoming increasingly more common. Not much is known about the polio-like disease that plagues mostly children, including what causes it. What is known is that AFM affects the spinal cord and causes weak limbs or paralysis, drooping in the face, and slurred speech or difficulty breathing. About 200 kids have been diagnosed since 2014, and this year's figures are especially troubling.
The CDC reports 121 cases of AFM were confirmed in 2014, but that was followed by just 21 cases in 2015, reports Fox News. From January to August of this year, however, there were 50 confirmed cases in 24 states. Among that first spike of cases in 2014, the Washington Post reports that 85% of kids recovered partially, but only three recovered fully. A CDC study found 68% of patients had a fever and 81% had a respiratory illness before AFM symptoms appeared. Some had been diagnosed with the West Nile virus, and others with an enterovirus. "August to October is typically when enteroviruses circulate" and "we see more acute flaccid myelitis during that season," a doctor tells NBC News. Washing your hands and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing are among the ways suggested to help. (Four siblings suffer from a mysterious disease.)