(WJBK) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating nationwide more than 150 pediatric cases of an extremely rare disease called acute flaccid myelitis. The problem is, doctors don't know the cause and don't have a way to diagnose it.
"I am a parent and I am worried, even though this is extremely rare; fewer than one in a million people are at risk," said Dr. Russell Faust. "If you're worried, get your kids up to date on their vaccinations."
Dr. Faust, the director at the Oakland County Health Department, says four cases are suspected in Michigan - the most recent in Oakland County. They are working to help hospitals and doctors in the area learn what to look for, and teach parents how to possibly prevent it.
"Diagnosis is tough because we don't have a known cause," he said. "How do you diagnose something like that? So, it's very painstaking, very tedious and technically challenging to diagnose a disease process that has no known cause. How do you do that? You rule out everything else it could possibly be."
Almost every case follows a similar pattern: the child comes down with what appears to be a common cold. Then, within 24 hours, weakness and/or paralysis spreads to the upper and lower limbs.
Other symptoms include difficulty moving the eyes, swallowing or slurred speech and drooping eyelids or a facial droop. Officials say there's no universal cure - just support care. Physical therapy has been successful in many cases.
The CDC admits it does not fully understand why some patients recover quickly, while others continue to experience paralysis and weakness.
Marcella Pierce was hospitalized five years ago, and now requires in-home care as well as a wheelchair.
"Our whole life has changed," said Amy Pierce, her mother. "But, she's adjusted really well. We try not to let it stop our life too much."
Dr. Faust says the CSC has been following the cases for the last five years.
We are hearing about AFM now since the cases seem to peak in late summer and early fall. Authorities are also working to determine who is most at risk for AFM. Who gets it - and why?
"It's a scary thing," Faust said. "So, again, to reassure parents - it's not contagious; it's extremely rare and there are things you can do to minimize the risk."