Federal officials have confirmed another two dozen cases of acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like illness that strikes children, bringing the total to 90 cases in 27 states. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control is investigating another 162 suspected cases of AFM.
The new data are certain to stoke more criticism of the CDC’s handling of the outbreak. Earlier this week, parents of two children who died said officials did not report the deaths and accused the CDC of downplaying the crisis.
A CDC official told CNN that there’s a lag in information about AFM cases getting from individual physicians to state health officials to the federal government. The agency has recruited 14 Epidemiologic Intelligence Services officers to review cases of suspected AFM from state health departments to clear the backlog.
AFM was first noted as a public health issue in 2014. Health officials theorize that the non-contagious condition begins with a virus that attacks the spinal cord’s gray matter, causing otherwise healthy kids to experience facial drooping, sudden inability to use limbs, and a sudden inability to speak. In severe cases, AFM can cause paralysis. It almost always affects children.
Experts don’t understand the mechanism by which the virus (which could range from the common cold to a stomach bug) would cause a neurological condition. Researchers have noted that the disease seems to cycle through the U.S. every other year—with the latest round of cases cropping up in August.
In the cases that the CDC has confirmed, either a cold virus or gastrointestinal virus was detected in patients, but experts aren’t sure whether there might be an entirely different trigger for the disease.