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Health department reveals new details on suspected cases of mysterious illness

PITTSBURGH — The Allegheny County Health Department released new information on the mysterious polio-like illness that's on the rise.

Channel 11 told you Tuesday that three children suspected of having acute flaccid myelitis, or "AFM," are being treated at UPMC Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville.

The health department said Thursday that two of the children are from Allegheny County and one is from Washington County.

This is the first confirmation of exactly which areas the cases are from.


"People are definitely worried," said Dr. Kristen Mertz of the county health department. "We've gotten calls from schools, from the public."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into the suspected cases to confirm whether the children have AFM, the health department said.

Mertz said despite the concern, the disease is actually very rare.

"It's a very rare disease. I think the CDC estimates that less than one in a million people per year will get this disease," she said.

The CDC says the disease starts as a common cold, but later partially paralyzes children.

Five children in Washington state have been hospitalized for the sudden onset of paralysis of one or more of their limbs, Washington State Department of Health officials announced Wednesday.

All five of the infants and children are younger than 6 years old.

There weren't many cases of AFM recorded until the fall 2014, when the CDC documented an increase.

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Mertz says these cases tend to happen in the late summer, early fall when many viruses are circulating. She says one thing parents can do is protect their kids from mosquito bites.

"West Nile can occasionally go on to lead to neurological conditions like this, so preventing mosquito bites, wearing DEET, things like that (can help)," she said. "The main things to preventing viral infections are things like good hand hygiene, washing your hands, coughing into your elbow."

The Children's Hospital of Los Angeles pioneered a unique approach last year to help children afflicted with the disease: they take healthy nerves from the patient's rib area to replace deadened nerves in paralyzed extremities in an approach they compare to an "electrical bypass."