Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Six cases of a rare, polio-like illness affecting children were reported in Minnesota in the past three weeks, state health officials said.
All six were under the age of 10 and reported weakness and paralysis in the arms and legs. The Minnesota Department of Health identified the illness as acute flaccid myelitis, and said it was first reported on Sept. 20.
The Centers for Disease and Control said AFM has afflicted only 362 people nationwide in the past four years.
The disease can develop from a viral infection and impacts the nervous system by traveling through the spinal cord, but its cause is unknown. Symptoms include sudden arm and leg weakness, drooping eyelids, facial weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. Treatment and therapy can restore lost mobility over time, but a loss of the muscular function to breathe can be deadly.
Minnesota officials said they typically see one case of AFM per year. The disease was most prevalent in 2014 when 120 cases, most in Colorado and California, were reported. The increase coincided with a national outbreak of respiratory illnesses caused by a virus known as enterovirus D68. Polio is the most significant disease caused by an enterovirus.
There is no treatment for AFM, but doctors advise frequent hand washing, covering of coughs, avoidance of mosquito bites and staying up to date on vaccinations.
"It is very rare and it is certainly something we're taking very seriously," Kris Ehresmann, of the Minnesota Health Department's infectious disease section, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It's a very devastating situation. We're looking into any kind of commonality, but at this point, we don't have anything to wrap up in a bow."
The case of Orville Young, 4, was among the first in Minnesota to be reported. In July, he exhibited typical cold symptoms, immobility in his legs and paralysis of his right arm. Physical rehabilitation and electrical stimulation restored most of his leg function, but the top part of his right arm remains paralyzed.