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Rare neurological disease reported in six Minnesota kids

Officials are investigating this "rare but potentially severe" condition.

State health officials are investigating six cases of a rare, little understood child neurological disease that have suddenly cropped up in Minnesota.

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which is often compared to polio, has been found in half a dozen kids across the state since mid-September, according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

The cases were reported in the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota, and all involved children under 10 years old. 

AFM affects the nervous system, causing sudden muscle weakness and other symptoms including drooping of the face or eyelids, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing, the MDH says. 

In some cases, the department notes, "it can lead to death, paralysis or other long-term health impacts."

The source of the disease in the six Minnesota patients isn't clear, but the release says AFM can be a complication following a viral infection or respiratory illness, and that "environmental and genetic factors may also contribute to its development."

"MDH disease investigators are working aggressively with health care providers to gather information about the cases," the department says.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), AFM affects mostly children, and while the condition is "not new," there has been an increase in cases since 2014. 

The CDC notes that there aren't any specific treatments for the disease, though a neurologist "may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness caused by AFM," among other tactics.

Still, the organization says, "we do not know the long-term outcomes (prognosis) of people with AFM."

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