U.S. doctors baffled as rare spinal disease spreads across 22 states

"There is a lot we don't know about AFM and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", Messonnier said.

The agency says there are several possible causes, including "viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders". It affects mostly children. In extreme cases, paralysis and death can occur. Although it is too early to understand how the current season compares to previous ones, she noted, the nation is "on track with what was seen in 2014 and 2016" and will probably have the same number of cases.

The CDC is investigating 127 reported cases, including the ones that have been confirmed.

That's when we spoke with the families of 4-year-old Camdyn Carr, who's now fighting the disease, and 7-year-old Sebastian Bottomley, who previously fought AFM.

According to the CDC, the number of patients with AFM symptoms increases each year in August and September. CDC experts say the overall rate of AFM is about one in a one million. "We actually don't know what's causing this increase", said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, of the CDC.

This disease is like a "hit-and-run", Gupta said, and "you don't have evidence of the virus but you do have evidence of the aftermath so it's hard to piece together".

The virus is diagnosed by examining a patient's nervous system and in combination with looking at photos of the patient's spinal cord, the CDC says. Doctors at Children's have not seen an AFM patient needing a ventilator this year, but have treated such cases in the past, Benson said. But so far, no pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid.

Parents can best protect their children from serious diseases by taking prevention steps, such as washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended vaccines and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites. For example, 11 of the Colorado cases of AFM this year have tested positive for EV A71, a rare type of enterovirus not usually seen in the U.S., rather in Asia and other parts of the world, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. It could be potentially deadly if the diaphragm is paralyzed because the child would be unable to breathe.

Now 3 years old, Hunter has slowly recovered.

CNN reached out to health departments in every state; 48 states responded, plus the District of Columbia.

States reporting suspected cases or cases under investigation are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington.

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest ME news.

  • Aubrey Nash