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State reports no cases of polio-like disease

  • Tribune News Service photo Quinton Hill, 7, lost movement in one arm last month due to a mysterious syndrome known as acute flaccid myelitis. Treatment at Children’s Hospital followed multiple tests and imaging scans to diagnose him. Six Minnesota children have suffered AFM in recent weeks.

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii health officials said Thursday that it seems the state remains free of cases of acute flaccid myelitis — a polio-like illness that’s infected dozens of people, most frequently children, throughout the nation.

Some 38 cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have been confirmed in 16 states through Sept. 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been monitoring and investigating an increasing number of AFM cases since 2014. States reporting cases include Illinois, Washington, Colorado, Minnesota and Texas.

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Anna Koethe, public health information coordinator for the state Department of Health, said Thursday that the department has “not received any verified reports” of AFM in Hawaii so far in 2018.

“For now, DOH is staying up-to-date with the latest guidance shared with states by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding diagnosis and management of acute flaccid myelitis and continuing to monitor for any such cases,” she said.

Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare condition that affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, according to the CDC. A virus, a genetic disorder and environmental toxins can cause it.

Symptoms, health officials say, can be similar to those associated with poliovirus and West Nile and include facial and eyelid drooping, facial weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, sudden limb weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs. Poliovirus and West Nile virus sometimes can lead to AFM.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but a neurologist can recommend interventions on a case-by-case basis. Though long-term effects are not yet fully understood, the CDC said some patients recovered quickly while others continue to suffer paralysis and require ongoing care.

Health officials also have yet to confirm the cause of the illness, despite testing many different specimens from patients for a wide range of pathogens that cause AFM. It’s also not known who might be at a higher risk.

The CDC determined that based on the 362 cases it’s received verified from August 2014-August 2018, most of the cases occur in children.

Acute flaccid myelitis is not new, but the CDC has seen an increase in cases nationwide since late summer 2014. From August-December that year, 120 people in 34 states were confirmed to have acute flaccid myelitis.

The number dropped in 2015, when the CDC confirmed 22 people in 17 states had AFM. It again increased in 2016, with 149 cases confirmed in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Last year, there were 33 confirmed cases in 16 states.

Hawaii had no verified reports from 2014 through Thursday, Koethe said.

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“We had a couple investigations of suspect cases in Hawaii, but no confirmed cases,” she said.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.