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Six Minnesota children diagnosed with rare polio-like illness

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Health released a statement saying six children have been afflicted with a rare polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis.

The cases started showing up in mid-September, all in children under 10. Cases have been reported from the Twin Cities, central and northeastern Minnesota.

The condition, which affects mainly children, attacks the nervous system, causing muscles to weaken. It can be a complication following a viral infection, but environmental and genetic factors may also be a cause.

Initial symptoms include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs. Other symptoms are neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing or slurred speech. If the condition worsens, symptoms can lead to paralysis or death.

If parents notice symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately. The condition can be diagnosed by examining a person's nervous system, taking a magnetic resonance imaging scan and testing the cerebral spinal fluid.

According to the department, there was a national uptick in these cases in 2014 that investigators believe was linked to an outbreak of a respiratory illness in children caused by an enterovirus. Minnesota saw three cases that year and typically sees less than one case per year.