Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM), a polio-like nervous system condition, has been making the rounds in the news lately, putting many parents on high alert. It is important to note that, even with all the coverage, AFM is a rare condition, affecting only one in a million people each year. Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the condition is not new, but cases have been slightly increasing since 2014. So far in 2018, there have been 62 cases confirmed across the U.S. and, as of October 25, the Illinois Department of Public Health reports 13 patients under investigation in the state, however zero have been confirmed yet as being AFM. The largest concern is that the condition is occurring in young children with no immediate known cause, but understanding about the facts of AFM may help alleviate worry.
Unfortunately, a specific cause of AFM is unknown. However, there are certain viruses that could cause AFM or other similar neurological conditions, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, West Nile Virus, and adenoviruses. In most cases, even through extensive testing, an exact cause is unable to be established.
According to the CDC, the most common with AFM include:
- Sudden arm or leg weakness
- Difficulty moving eyes
- Drooping eyelids
- Difficulty swallowing
- Slurred speech
Rare symptoms may include a tingling in the extremities, an inability to urinate, and difficulty breathing. Should your child experience any of these symptoms, seek medical care right away, as they could be due to AFM or indicate a separate neurological condition.
Because an exact cause is unknown, it is vital to practice preventative measures against the viruses and vaccine-preventable illnesses that have been linked.
- Get vaccinated. The best protection against the poliovirus and other dangerous illnesses is to ensure you and your children are up-to-date on necessary vaccines.
- Wear insect repellent. Prevent mosquito bites in order to avoid contracting West Nile Virus. Wear long pants and sleeves when in wooded areas and apply repellent.
- Wash your hands. Most common infections are spread through personal contact. Take care to wash your hands thoroughly and often.
When to Seek Help
AFM may start as a respiratory illness, such as a cold or infection. In the majority of cases, a cold is just a cold, so there is no need for alarm. A visit to the doctor is warranted if you see a sudden onset of symptoms, such as muscle weakness in the arms and legs. A neurologist will recommend specific treatment on a case-by-case basis, meaning recovery time can vary. Getting quick intervention, such as muscle rehabilitation, may help in a more rapid improvement, but no cure is known. Thankfully, recovery is possible with physical or occupational therapy to strengthen any weaknesses caused by AFM. It is also possible that the paralysis is caused by a different condition, not AFM, so a thorough examination and testing will need to be performed for confirmation.
Although rare, AFM is a serious condition. If you are concerned your child may be at risk, or if you have more questions regarding AFM, contact us today.