CDC warns of 2020 outbreak of acute flaccid myelitis

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it anticipates 2020 will be another peak year for cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), an uncommon-but-serious neurological condition that affects mostly children.

The disease has peaked every two years between August and November in the United States since 2014. The CDC released a new report to alert health care providers to a possible outbreak this year.

“As we head into these critical next months, CDC is taking necessary steps to help clinicians better recognize signs and symptoms of AFM in children,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. “Recognition and early diagnosis are critical. CDC and public health partners have strengthened early disease detection systems, a vital step toward rapid treatment and rehabilitation for children with AFM.”

Cami Abernathy readjusts the sling on her son Carter’s arm at Manning Mill Park in Adairsville. Carter recently had surgery to assist with his suspected acute flaccid myelitis, a neurological condition that can cause a polio-like illness. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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The new report reveals a delay in care for some patients. In 2018, 35% of patients were not hospitalized until two or more days after limb weakness.

AFM can progress rapidly over the course of hours or days, leading to permanent paralysis and possibly respiratory failure.

Symptoms include sudden limb weakness, especially during August through November. Recent respiratory illness or fever and the presence of neck or back pain should heighten their concern.

Pediatricians and frontline providers in emergency departments and urgent care centers should be prepared to quickly recognize symptoms of AFM and immediately hospitalize patients, the CDC said.

“All clinicians should remain vigilant for AFM and promptly evaluate patients,” said Dr. Thomas Clark, deputy director of CDC’s division of viral diseases. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, this may require adjusting practices to perform clinical evaluations of patients by phone or telemedicine. However, clinicians should not delay hospitalizing patients when they suspect AFM.”