Scientists from coast-to-coast are studying an increase in cases of a polio-like illness in children after 16 states, including Texas, have reported cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.
The viral illness targets the body’s nervous system that causes partial paralysis in children. As of this writing, Children's Health reports six cases of AFM.
There is no cure, but it is treatable with medicine and its long-term effects can be lessened through physical therapy, but some children affected appear to have long-term disabilities.
Children's Health says AFM actually stems from a common virus, but researchers are looking into why some cases reach a high level of seriousness.
"First and foremost we want to reassure parents that this is a very rare event from a virus that's pretty common. From thousands of children affected by this virus over the next month -- maybe one of those many thousands will get a neurological complication," said Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, pediatric neurologist at Children's Health and associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Greenberg is one of the nation's foremost AFM researchers and notes the virus seems to spike every other year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- there were 120 cases in 34 states back in 2014, but just 22 cases in 2015, then cases spiked again to 149 in 2016, but there were only 33 cases reported in 2017.
During that 2016 spike, several North Texas children were diagnosed including 10-year-old Faith Dibley.
“I just realized my hand wasn’t working like normal... I thought it would be over. In the next 20 minutes, I thought it would just be back to normal. I thought I must’ve gotten hurt or something random must’ve happened," said Faith Dibley.
Instead, the next morning she was unable to get out of bed. She says it didn't take doctors long to determine her symptoms were caused by AFM. An MRI quickly confirmed it.
Dibley spent nine days in the hospital. In the end, she had regained control of her legs and was able to walk out. It would take months of physical therapy, surgery and more therapy to be able to use her left hand again.
“I feel stronger because of what I went through now," said Dibley, acknowledging that her recovery makes her one of the lucky ones.
Besides weakness in the arms or legs, the CDC says other symptoms of AFM include: facial drooping or weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids and difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.
Both the CDC and the Texas Department of Health and Human Services are asking doctors to report any suspected cases.
They say if your child develops any kind of weakness in the arms or legs, you should get him or her to the pediatrician right away.