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Cases of polio-like illness rising across the country, CDC says

The medical mystery is sending healthy kids to hospitals and pushing parents over the edge.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning parents about a paralyzing polio-like disease that's spreading across the country.

The CDC said it's investigating 127 possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). AFM, which affects mostly children, has been confirmed in 22 states, with suspected cases in 26 states.

AFM is caused by a viral infection. Symptoms range from muscle weakness to paralysis. What's most concerning is that doctors have no idea what's causing it. The medical mystery is sending healthy kids to hospitals and pushing parents over the edge.

"It's been very scary."

Hudsyn Finkle's arm fell limp just a few weeks ago.

"He came to me, and he is supporting his left arm with his right arm and he says, 'Mommy, my arm's broke,'" said Danielle Finkle, the five-year-old's mother.

Doctors diagnosed Hudsyn with AFM.

"There have been more and more instances of reports coming from various states," said Dr. Arash Pourinsa, an infectious disease specialist in Rock Hill.

A 7-year-old Charlotte girl is among those affected. Five years ago, Kylie Daw's mother was worried her daughter would never walk again.

"Seemed like it was a cold type thing, little fever," Nicole Daw remembers thinking when Kylie was first experiencing symptoms.

During a family vacation in Ireland, Kylie Daw's condition got worse. She fell and could no longer walk with ease. Her mother was terrified.

"I had no idea what was going on," Nicole Daw said. "I couldn't even fathom the kid that was walking at 10 months [couldn't] go three steps without falling over."

Those devastating memories came rushing back after news broke about the spread of AFM. Doctors in Ireland had told her Kylie Daw had AFM.

"It was probably one of the scariest things I've ever gone through," Nicole Daw said. "Just trying to keep a brave face and underneath my head is going a million miles an hour trying to figure this out, what is this happening to her."

The majority of patients are under 10-years-old, but AFM can affect anyone.

"We hesitate to define this disease by age. I believe it can happen to anybody at any age."

Early onset symptoms include weakness in the limbs which can quickly become paralysis. Recovery is questionable.

"Unfortunately so far, most of the cases we have seen, they will continue to have residual weakness in the limbs involved," said Dr. Poursina.

The CDC said a child who had AFM died in 2017.

Doctors suspect the condition may be related to a virus like West Nile, but they've been unable to pin down a single cause.

"We're looking really broadly at any possible cause, so we're looking at anything that might be causing the AFM because our earlier investigations haven't revealed the cause," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier with the CDC.

There is no specific treatment for AFM, but the CDC recommends people follow normal disease prevention steps, including staying current on vaccines, washing hands, and avoiding mosquito bites.

NBC's Xavier Walton contributed to this story.

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