Hearing about AFM can be scary for any parent. AFM stands for acute flaccid myelitis and there have been 62 confirmed cases in 22 different states according to the CDC. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention continues to keep track of the cases as more reports come in. Doctors are getting concerned as they track the numbers because there seems to have been a huge spike in cases this year.
So what should you know about the disease? AFM still remains rare, the disease affects the spinal cord and disrupts the way the brain carries instructions to the rest of the body. What scares most parents is that the illness can be debilitating for a young child.
The disease predominantly affects young children. According to the CDC, the average age of a patient with AFM is 4 years old. Health experts are not sure why there has been a spike in cases this year and what exactly causes the mystery illness. AFM can be caused by a number of factors such as viruses and environmental factors. Viruses linked to AFM include poliovirus, certain enteroviruses, and West Nile virus. The illness can also be transmitted through the digestive system, which is why it’s always important to wash your hands thoroughly because when someone with contaminated hands touches their mouth the virus can infect the mouth, nose, and throat.
The symptoms also don’t always show up right away. It can take 14 days for the signs of AFM to pop up. What could start as a common respiratory illness with a fever can sometimes develop into something much more serious. Since AFM affects the spinal cord, patients can experience symptoms of paralysis. The illness can result in arm or leg weakness and loss of reflexes. If you notice facial drooping or weakness in your child, or if they’re having trouble moving their eyes contact your pediatrician right away! The most serious symptom can be respiratory failure. This happens when the muscles that move the lungs are affected.
The best way to protect your entire family is to make sure everyone is practicing good hygiene. Doctors cannot stress enough the importance of washing your hands with soap and water to keep germs from spreading. Make sure your child is up to date on their vaccine schedule, just check with your pediatrician. And it’s always important to protect against mosquito bites by using insect repellent when outdoors. Try to stay indoors at dusk and dawn. The closer we get to winter the less of a problem these pesky bugs will become also.
Although there is no specific treatment for AFM, doctors can use similar treatment and care as they do with the flu. Physical and occupational therapy may also be involved depending on the symptoms that develop. It's also important to remember while we may hear about the illness more in the headlines, CDC states, even with the increase in cases, AFM remains a very rare condition, less than one in a million people in the United States get AFM each year.