A rare condition known for its polio-like effects has been diagnosed in six Minnesota children since mid-September. Per CNN, the condition is called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and damages the body's nervous system. While uncommon, AFM is serious and can lead to paralysis or even death. The state usually sees just one case of the illness per year, which the Star-Tribune reports has health officials now issuing alerts to doctors statewide. And, unlike the viral disease polio, AFM's more elusive cause means there is no vaccine. "Disease investigators are working aggressively with health care providers to gather information about the cases," the Minnesota Department of Public Health said in a statement. "The department is also in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to share information."
AFM most commonly affects young children and the cases in Minnesota, which are not isolated to one region but have instead been seen in multiple parts of the state, have all occurred in patients under age 10. AFM is believed to be most frequently triggered by some separate viral infection, leading officials to urge parents to ensure children follow basic preventative measures including hand washing, staying up-to-date on vaccinations, and avoiding mosquito bites when at all possible. Officials also want parents to be aware of early signs of AFM, which include weakness or stiffness of the neck, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, and slurred speech. With no vaccine, all doctors can do in these cases is treat symptoms and hope effects like limb paralysis aren't permanent. (Meanwhile, the CDC says the disease may be on the rise.)