CDC Investigating Rise of Paralysis-Causing Syndrome

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WATCH CDC Investigating Rise of Paralysis-Causing Syndrome

A dangerous health condition that can cause temporary or sometimes permanent paralysis appears to be on the rise in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported Monday that there have been 50 cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) since the start of this year, compared with just 21 cases in all of 2015.

AFM affects the nervous system, causing damage that can result in temporary or permanent paralysis in severe cases. The syndrome has a variety of causes, including the polio virus.

Symptoms include facial droop or weakness, droopy eyelids, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech. The CDC is looking at the enterovirus D68 as a possible cause.

The enterovirus D68 spread rapidly in 2014 and infected many children. Some of the children developed AFM, but the CDC has not "consistently detected a pathogen" in the spinal fluid of infected patients, making the cause difficult to pinpoint.

While Guillain-Barre syndrome can also cause temporary paralysis, that condition is often triggered after an acute infection, causing the body to attack the nervous system.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said parents should be aware of symptoms of enterovirus D68 infection in case the virus ends up being definitively linked to the mysterious syndrome.

"We're tracking disease and urging everyone to wash their hands and if there is any early illness to get in touch with a health care provider," said Schaffner. He said early symptoms are fever, rash and sometimes severe respiratory distress.