Symptoms include drooping face and eyelids, difficulty moving eyes and swallowing, and slurred speech. Minnesota typically sees a case or less per year, according to the MDH statement; even in 2014, only three cases were recorded there.
AFM can occur as a result of a variety of germs including polio virus and non-polio enteroviruses, West Nile virus, and adenoviruses. In Minnesota, three cases of the disease were reported in 2014, but since then the number had dropped until the latest outbreak.
MDH disease investigators are working aggressively with health care providers to gather information about the cases.
While fewer than 1 in a million people in the USA are diagnosed with AFM each year, the CDC is concerned about the recurrent outbreaks, especially given the mysterious nature of the illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said AFM presents like polio or West Nile virus, estimates that fewer than one in a million people in the USA will get AFM each year. By the end of that year, 120 people had been diagnosed in 34 states. AFM can cause a range of types and severity of symptoms, but the commonality among them is a loss of strength or movement in one or more arms or legs.
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It's believed that the condition can develop following a viral infection, and indeed, the parents of two of the patients say their children started to develop symptoms after getting a cold.
Cynthia Kenyon, another Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist, said that spinal inflammation disorders could spring from viruses, other pathogens or toxins. The first of the six diagnoses was made in mid-September.
"From what my understanding is, if there is an external causal agent, it may be hard to determine when the exposure to that agent occurs", Kenyon said.
How is it prevented and treated? There are no specific treatments for AFM, so doctors may decide on certain treatments on a case-by-case basis.
Health officials are warning parents to be on the lookout for symptoms. The viruses that are accounted to cause AFM may be contagious from one person to another or may be spread by a mosquito or other vector depending on which virus causes the AFM.
"We think that in some cases, there might be a virus or some pathogen that you are initially infected with", Kenyon said.