What to Know About the Rare Polio-Like Disease

Health authorities are investigating an unusual spike in Acute Flaccid Myelitis, an illness that causes paralysis and muscle weakness.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) and polio are similar in the way they affect the nervous system, mostly in children. Symptoms of AFM include sudden onset of weakness in the arms or legs, as well as drooping facial muscles, including the eyelids, and difficulty moving the eyes. Most patients must be hospitalized. It can arise following a viral infection, but environmental and genetic factors may also contribute to its development. Both EV-D68 and EV-A71, which are in the same family of viruses as the poliovirus, are enteroviruses that are associated with the cause of AFM. The number of cases of AFM cases fluctuates year-to-year because it is linked to viral infection. It’s not clear if school's are a factor in the spread of the viruses that underlie the condition, but cases do begin to rise around the time school starts. AFM has been found to have an every-other-year pattern, which suggests 2018 could be another year in which more cases are reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 62 confirmed cases across 22 states so far this year. Some children with AFM, recover completely, but others are disabled for years or die. There is no specific treatment that can reverse the effects of the virus attacking the nervous system, but physical therapy is used to strengthen other muscles in their bodies to make up for the damaged ones to. Although the disease is rare, it is important for parents to know the symptoms to help catch AFM early. MRI scans and cerebral spinal fluid can be used by doctors to detect and recommend certain interventions depending on the case. To stay healthy and avoid infections and potential development of AFM, it is recommended for parents and children to follow the basic steps to avoid infections such as washing hands and staying up to date on vaccinations.

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