Here’s What You Need To Know About Acute Flaccid Myelitis

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As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with cold and flu season upon us! A scary illness is cropping up across the country, and it’s affecting primarily children. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a polio-like illness that causes muscle weakness and even paralysis. There are 127 suspected and 62 confirmed cases so far, and about 90% of those afflicted are under 18 years old. AFM has been reported in 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, the CDC has declined to name the states with confirmed or suspected cases at this point. The condition is rare, affecting fewer than one in a million kids. But it’s a good idea to be informed about what is going on.

This isn’t the first time acute flaccid myelitis has been reported.

There seems to be an every-other-year pattern with AFM. In 2014, 120 cases were reported nationally, but that dropped to 22 cases in 2015. There was another spike in 2016, with 149 cases, but just 33 cases in 2017. The problem is, no one is quite sure just what causes AFM. It’s believed to be a complication from a viral infection. CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier says, “We have not been able to find the cause of the majority of AFM cases. We have detected enterovirus in several of these individual cases.”

The good news is that all confirmed and suspected cases have tested negative for polio virus. Polio was eradicated in this country by vaccine, but with the vaccination rates falling, there’s always the fear that it could return.

Acute flaccid myelitis typically does not develop gradually.

Some kids with AFM may have mild symptoms that gradually worsen. But in almost all cases, the disease comes on very quickly, and kids will have a sudden onset of weakness. Symptoms of AFM include weakness and/or paralysis. This can range from being unable to lift their arm, to having difficulty breathing (the disease can weaken the muscles that facilitate breathing). An MRI can show specific damage to the spinal cord.

There is no specific treatment for acute flaccid myelitis. Additionally, once the virus has attacked the nervous system, there is no medical intervention that has been able to successful reverse the damage. Rehabilitation therapy can help some people with AFM regain function, allowing for a full recovery. But some children are disabled by the disease for years.

Officials stress that acute flaccid myelitis is incredibly rare. However, they encourage parents to seek medical attention immediately if their kids exhibit any of the symptoms, like sudden weakness or paralysis of the arms and legs.

(Image: iStock/Sasiistock)