'Polio-like' illness paralyzing children in 22 states baffles CDC officials

It seemed that 6-year-old Spencer Hill was battling symptoms of a common cold until suddenly he started struggling to walk and move his arms.

Then he couldn’t write and his legs began giving out.

“You see your child, who likes to run and play,” Serena Hill, the Tennessee boy’s mother, told WRCB. “All of a sudden, ‘Mommy I can’t zip my pants. I can’t write.’ Then you see him fall and his legs give out. It is absolutely terrifying.”

Spencer is among the 62 confirmed cases across 22 states of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigating 65 additional more. According to his mother, he’s been in a children’s hospital in Atlanta since last month and has spent the last three weeks working on his fine motor skills while receiving intense steroid infusions to stop the spread of paralysis.

About 90 percent of the confirmed cases involve children who have suffered muscle weakness or paralysis, including in the face, neck, back or limbs. The symptoms tend to appear about a week after exhibiting a fever or respiratory illness.

On Tuesday, CDC officials said they haven’t found a cause in the recent spike of cases, which is similar to patterns reported in 2014 and 2016. On its website, the agency lists viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders as possible causes of AFM. It also lists West Nile virus, adenoviruses, poliovirus, and non-polio enteroviruses as potential suspects, but while some have been detected in recent paralysis cases, it hasn’t been found in others.

“This is a mystery so far,” the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said.

Many children eventually recover from the illness, with treatments varying depending on their symptoms and severity of illness, but others may not.