Doctors warned after 6 kids in MN contract rare, polio-like condition

Doctors warned after 6 kids in MN contract rare, polio-like condition
Quinton Hill, 7, began having symptoms in early September. At first, the family thought he had a cold, but his condition got aggressively worse until his neck and left arm were stiff. (Source: James Hill/WCCO/CNN)

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/CNN) - The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating after a surge of pediatric cases of a rare disorder that affects the spinal cord and can cause paralysis.

James Hill says his son, 7-year-old Quinton Hill, began having symptoms Sept. 9. At first, they thought the boy had a cold, but Quinton’s symptoms got aggressively worse until his neck and left arm were stiff.

The 7-year-old spent two weeks in the hospital, getting MRIs and a spinal tap done before receiving the diagnosis of acute flaccid myelitis, a condition that weakens muscles and reflexes in the body.

"It was extremely emotional. Obviously, the world seemed like it was crashing down,” Hill said.

Since Sept. 20, six pediatric cases of AFM have been reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, according to officials. Official Kris Ehresmann says they would typically see no more than one case in a year.

All six victims are under 10 years old and have been hospitalized after suffering single or multi-limb weakness. Two of the children experienced enough weakness to require respiratory support.

Symptoms of AFM include sudden onset arm or leg weakness, facial drooping or weakness and difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

While its symptoms mimic polio, there is no cure for AFM. Some patients make a recovery, but the condition can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Following the surge of cases, the state health department issued an advisory to doctors, urging them to keep watch for the rare condition.

Health officials are recommending parents take precautions as well. It’s not clear what the cause of AFM is, but it is associated with viruses, including West Nile.

"Good handwashing, coughing into your elbow, making sure if you're sick to stay home, keeping up to date on your vaccinations,” Ehresmann said.

It’s unknown if the condition is contagious or linked to genetics or environment. It was originally discovered in 2014 and typically affects fewer than one in 1 million children.

The Minnesota Department of Health will study the current cases to try to determine if there is any link to a cause.

Copyright 2018 WCCO, James Hill via CNN. All rights reserved.