There has been a spike in cases of the mysterious polio-like illness that mainly affects children, with a top federal health official announcing Tuesday that more than 120 confirmed or possible cases have been documented so far in 2018, the Washington Post reports. Most of the cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have occurred since August. The rare condition, which has been surging since 2014, affects the nervous system and can lead to paralysis of the arms and legs. It has no specific treatment, though various treatments are being tried. The health official said cases have been confirmed in 22 states, but CNN recently reached out to health departments in every state, and 30 of them said they had confirmed or suspected cases. Per CNN's analysis, Colorado had the highest number of confirmed cases at 14.
It's still not clear what causes AFM, but one of the most likely culprits is a virus. "This is likely a rare complication from a common virus," one expert tells CNN. "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." It's also possible environmental toxins or genetic factors come into play. Symptoms include sudden limb weakness, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, facial and eyelid drooping, difficult swallowing, slurred speech, and difficulty moving the eyes. In severe cases, difficulty breathing can also occur. Some recover quickly from the illness while others require long-term care; there was one reported death in 2017. The CDC is investigating more than 360 cases of AFM dating back to 2014, USA Today reports. (This rare ailment affects longtime pot users.)