By now you’ve probably already heard about the mysterious polio-like illness affecting children across the country. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a serious medical condition that impacts the nervous system. Even though AFM isn’t exactly a new disease, the number of diagnosed cases started rising in 2014. Read on for more information about an unusual recent spike in AFM cases in the United States that’s giving some health officials pause for concern.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AFM affects less than one in a million people in the United States annually; the majority of these cases are children. The condition, which can cause weakness and a paralysis-like loss of muscle tone or movement, has several different possible causes, including viral, genetic disorders or environmental toxins.
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The Number of AFM Cases So Far
As of Oct. 16, 2018, health departments in 30 states report having confirmed or suspected cases of AFM, according to CNN, including a total of 47 confirmed cases and another 49 potential cases (these are suspected cases of AFM that state health departments are still investigating). The CDC’s current surveillance statistics only provide numbers through Sep. 30, 2018. As of Sep. 30, there were 38 confirmed AFM cases in 16 states.
For comparison, there were a total of 33 cases of AFM confirmed by the CDC for the entirety of 2017. In 2016, however, the CDC reported 149 confirmed cases of AFM. The CDC began tracking AFM more closely in 2014, after 120 cases were confirmed that year following an outbreak of a particularly virulent strain of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68).
Where AFM Has Been Reported
In a statement emailed to Red Tricycle, the CDC declined to provide a full list of all states that have reported AFM cases to date: “CDC strives to strike a balance between providing information that is beneficial to the public’s health and protecting the privacy of patients and their families. Therefore, CDC is currently deferring to states to release information about acute flaccid myelitis cases.”
Public reports from state health departments compiled by CNN reveal that AFM cases have been reported in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
CNN also compiled state health departments reporting suspected or cases under investigation and include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington state. Bear in mind, this list is constantly changing—as individual state health departments complete their investigations of suspected AFM cases.
Symptoms of AFM & Prognosis
To be clear: AFM is not polio—but it does bear many similar symptoms of polio. A sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone is one of the first noticeable symptoms of AFM. Along with arm and leg weakness, children with AFM may also have facial droop or weakness, difficulty making eye movements, drooping eyelids, loss of reflexes. difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.
There is no cure or vaccine for AFM, so what about prognosis? Severe cases require hospitalization for supportive treatment. Motor-related after-effects may require physical or occupational therapy. Per the CDC, “We do not yet know the long-term effects of AFM. We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care.”
How Worried Should Parents Really Be Right Now?
So how likely is it that your kiddo will get AFM? Again, the CDC estimates that developing AFM is roughly a one in a million chance. But if you notice any of the potential symptoms, you should contact your pediatrician or a medical professional immediately.
While AFM can be caused by several different factors, the CDC points out that most cases don’t always have an identifiable cause—meaning there is no way to protect yourself or your child 100 percent. As of now, no vaccine for AFM exists. While a virus isn’t always the cause, proper hand-washing is always a good idea—especially as flu season nears.