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The CDC confirmed this week that 62 people, mainly children, have acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a disease that weakens their arms and legs. But although the symptoms are scary (they have been described as "polio-like"), it is a very rare disease and I promise you will not have to freak out. Doctors and scientists are still finding out exactly what is going on. Here are the facts we have right now:

How do we know that these children do not have polio?

Because there is a polio test, and The CDC says Everyone with AFM has so far tested negative for it.

What is polio anyway?

Until the 1950s, when the first polio vaccines became available, polioviruses were quite common in water, occasionally causing gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea and the like). A small percentage of people infected with the poliovirus developed serious complications, including paralysis. If you have seen pictures of children in black and white pictures wearing suspenders on their legs or sleeping in them Iron lungsThat's polio.

Polio itself is rare today. There was only a few dozen cases worldwide this yearSome of the virus itself, and some of the vaccine, which a whole story,

What are the symptoms?

There is only one frightening symptom: weakness and paralysis of the limbs. It suddenly comes up. An MRI (this machine that you lie down on and go through a huge magnetic donut) shows damage to the gray matter of the spinal cord and / or the fluid around the spinal cord contains a certain amount of anti-infective white blood cells. (The CDC has a detailed definition here.)

What happens after that is not clear. The CDC says, "We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and need ongoing care."

So far, most cases have been in children with a median age of 4 years.

What causes it?

Well, that's the mysterious part. Nobody knows. At the beginning of this year doctors found it AFM could be caused by Enterovirus D68but now the CDC says it's not enough to explain all the cases they've seen. They test the patients with AFM, but could not find a virus that is common to all.

The symptoms of AFM are similar not only to polio but also to rare complications of West Nile virus and other diseases.

Is this new?

Somehow. The first major increase in AFM cases occurred in 2014, when there were 120 cases nationwide. The CDC says that this could be related to an outbreak of the enterovirus D68 at that time, but it is not clear what happens this year.

What can I do to protect myself or my children?

That's another secret, because we still do not know what's causing it, and we do not know who's most vulnerable. The CDC recommends that you wash your hands and keep up to date with your vaccines, which are only good advice anyway.

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