By Shereen Siewert
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that there are 191 patients under investigation so far this year for acute flaccid myelitis, a polio-like condition that that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children.
Of these, 72 have been confirmed by the CDC in 24 states, and the remainder continue to be investigated. As of Monday, two cases have been confirmed in Wisconsin.
Acute flaccid myelitis, also called AFM, is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system — specifically, the area of the spinal cord called gray matter. The condition affects fewer than one in a million people each year across the country, the CDC estimates.
The average age of patients confirmed to have the condition is just 4 years old, and more than 90 perceent of cases overall occur in children 18 and younger, according to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Symptoms have been most similar to complications of infection with certain viruses, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile virus. Cases have been on the rise since 2014, according to the CDC.
“While it usually affects the limbs, in rare cases, AFM can affect the muscles in the respiratory system, making it difficult for children to breathe. This can be life-threatening.”
Parents should seek help from an expert in AFM, he adds. Timely, expert diagnosis allows for close medical monitoring and makes it easier to intervene, if and when needed, to give a child the best possible recovery.
Symptoms of AFM
AFM is rare, but it can lead to serious neurologic problems. You should seek medical care right away if you or your child develops any of these symptoms:
- weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs
- facial droop or weakness
- difficulty moving the eyes
- drooping eyelids
- difficulty swallowing
- slurred speech
Infections That Can Cause Conditions like AFM
- Making sure you are all up to date on polio vaccinations.
- Protecting against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).
What CDC Is Doing About AFM
CDC has been investigating AFM since August 2014.
CDC officials have done extensive lab testing on specimens from patients, but have not determined what caused most of these people to get AFM. It is unclear what pathogen or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis. AFM may have a variety of possible causes such as viruses and environmental toxins.
Agency officials say they are continuing to learn as much as possible about AFM by looking at each case to figure out what puts people at risk of getting this condition and what is causing it. Also, they are urging doctors to be alert for patients with symptoms of AFM and to report patients under investigation for AFM to their health departments.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention