Acute Flaccid Myelitis – What Is It?

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Acute flaccid myelitis is the polio-like illness that has been striking children all across America, but what is it?

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is a condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the gray area of the spinal cord. The illness is rare and occurs in less than one million Americans each year. The cause for the ailment is unknown, and there has been a steady increase in the number of children diagnosed with AFM since 2014.

An October 2018 report from the CDC has confirmed more than 60 reported cases of AFM in 22, an increase from a September announcement. The September statement release confirmed 38 cases in just 16 states.

“AFM is rare, but the symptoms are like polio-myelitis, and that is concerning,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, Director of Infectious Diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, told the media. “Will it be as widespread as polio? I hope not. We will be keeping an eye on this.”

“The symptoms can be frightening, but we shouldn’t be alarmed,” said Dr. Debbi Lugo, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. “All of the cases of AFM diagnosed since 2014 have tested negative for polio.”

Children under the age of four have seen the most recent onsets ailment, but cases of AFM in children as old as 18 have also been reported. Symptoms of AFM range from mild to severe and may include weakness in the arms and legs, a loss of muscle tone, difficulty swallowing and moving the eyelids, droopy eyelids, and slurred speech.

“We must remember that AFM is very rare,” Dr. Lugo said. “More children were ill with the flu last year than those who were diagnosed with AFM. We must remind our children to be vigilant. We must remind them to cover their mouths when they cough and to wash their hands. It may be an inconvenience, but we must also not send them to school ill. We should reflect on this as a moment to remember the function and importance of vaccinations.”

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