What You Need to Know: Acute Flaccid Myelitis

What is acute flaccid myelitis? CDC confirms 116 cases of rare polio-like disease

As of Nov. 27, there have been 116 confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis across 31 states this year, according to the latest update from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s up from 60 in the first week of November.

The CDC announced it was setting up a task force to further investigate the disease and “ensure that the full capacity of the scientific community is engaged and working together to provide important answers and solutions to actively detect, more effectively treat, and ultimately prevent AFM and its consequences,” director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

» RELATED: Another Georgia toddler treated for rare illness that causes paralysis

In Georgia so far this year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported, “there have been an estimated three confirmed, or probable, cases of AFM with two possible other cases under investigation, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.”

Health officials are investigating the spike, which has caused paralysis and muscle weakness among infected children in Philadelphia, Texas, Minnesota, Washington, Illinois and other states. The average patient this year is 4 years old and 90 percent of cases involve youth 18 and younger.

» RELATED: Why is mysterious polio-like illness afflicting children so badly?

“Despite extensive lab testing, we still don’t know what caused the muscle weakness or paralysis, who’s most at risk or what the longterm consequences are,” Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters last month.

Some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care, she said.

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The CDC is monitoring disease activity, working with health care officials and encouraging providers to recognize and report suspected cases to their health departments.

So far we are generally on track to have numbers similar to 2014 and 2016, Messonier said. “But it would be premature to say we’re confident we know what’s going to happen.”

Messonier wants to remind parents that AFM is a very rare, but serious disease. If you witness sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the legs or arms, seek medical care right away. Parents can protect against AFM by staying up to date on vaccinations, encourage frequent hand-washing and ensure children are wearing mosquito repellant.

Symptoms of AFM

The rare disease, which affects a person’s nervous system, has typically afflicted children. Symptoms include facial droopiness, weakness, slurred speech, muscle tone loss, difficulty swallowing and in severe cases, the illness may lead to paralysis. Such symptoms are similar to those of certain viruses, such as poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses and West Nile Virus.

In 2014, there were a whopping 120 AFM cases confirmed across 34 states largely due to a national outbreak of the severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68. Since then, there have been 368 cases of AFM recorded in the United States.

» RELATED: Children hospitalized with polio-like sudden paralysis in Washington state

Treatment of AFM

While there is no known treatment for AFM,  neurologists may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with AFM-related muscle or limb weakness.

How to prevent AFM

According to the CDC, you can take the same precautions you’d take to avoid poliovirus or West Nile, such as:

  • Getting vaccinated 
  • Use mosquito repellant to avoid mosquito bites
  • Stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when bites are most common.
  • Remove standing or stagnant water near your home, where mosquitoes may breed.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water to avoid spreading germs and getting sick.

More about AFM at cdc.gov.

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