What is acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), the polio-like illness causing worry?

Henrietta Strickland
October 17, 2018

USA health officials have issued a warning about a rare condition which attacks the nervous system and spinal cord after 62 new cases of the little-known disease were confirmed across 22 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday that 62 cases have been confirmed in 22 states in recent weeks. Other symptoms may include trouble moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or facial droop and weakness.

"This remains a rare syndrome, but the similarities to poliomyelitis, polio-like illness, are concerning and bear close monitoring", Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, told ABC News in an interview.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed frustration and concern Tuesday about a puzzling surge in cases of polio-like paralysis, mostly in children, being reported across the country this year.

"My husband that noticed her arm was kind of just hanging there", her mother, Carlene, said.

In 2014, a large AFM epidemic coincided with a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), but in-depth testing of patient samples hasn't consistently found a common cause.

The CDC is investigating 127 reported cases, including the ones that have been confirmed.

"As a parent myself, I understand what it is like to be scared for your child". "Right now we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases", she said.

"There is a lot we don't know about AFM and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven't been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness", Messonnier said. The public health agency also does not fully understand long-term consequences or why some patients recover quickly while others continue to experience weakness.

However, officials have not been able to identify the cause of most of the AFM cases, or the reason for the spikes in 2014, 2016 and now 2018. In 2017, one person died of AFM.

Because the symptoms are similar, AFM is often confused with polio, a crippling and potentially fatal disease that is caused by a virus.

The CDC says to be on the lookout for the onset of arm or leg weakness, and loss of muscle tone and reflexes.

CDC began tracking the condition in 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases. The CDC estimates it affects only 1 out of 1 million people in the United States.

"Poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases".

Messonnier also said none of this year's cases have been linked to West Nile virus. "We certainly don't want to alarm people because it's very rare, but at the same time, I believe it's something that's best to have checked out".

"Families really sticking with it are seeing slow but steady recovery", he said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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