This year at least 50 people have been affected by a severe illness called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which doctors are saying closely resembles polio. The majority of those affected have been children who all initially came down with a fever and respiratory illness. After 5-7 days, they developed pain in some or all of their limbs and eventually weakness, resulting in immobility.
In some cases the paralysis that occurred has remained permanent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressed this developing illness in August of 2016, linking it to a strain of enterovirus that paralyzed 120 children in 2014. Doctors are still researching the causes, risk factors, and outcomes of the disease with little to no conclusion of how to treat it. Below is an overview of what has been learned so far about acute flaccid myelitis.
Signs & Symptoms
There does not seem to be a pattern to the weakness initially appearing in the arms and legs of AFM patients. Some people have experienced it in several limbs, while others just have it in one. Other symptoms have included:
- stiffness in the neck
- pain, tingling, and numbness in the arms and legs
- inability to pass urine
- muscles which control breath becoming weak
- distinctive abnormalities along the spinal cord
- acute cranial nerve dysfunction
“It’s important to understand there’s a wide spectrum of severity of this disease,” said Dr. Kevin Messacar, a pediatric physician specializing in infectious disease at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “On one end, you see mild weakness in one extremity. On the other, you’ve got children who have lost the ability to breathe on their own and exhibit complete paralysis in their arms and legs.”
How It’s Caused
It appears that AFM is triggered by a number of different viruses including enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile virus. Still scientists have not come to any conclusion about the cause of these specific cases. Some children have come down with AFM after having some type of infection, while others had nothing before the onset of AFM symptoms. Polio and other viruses fall under enteroviruses. These viruses include symptoms such as:
- hand, foot, and mouth disease
- viral conjunctivitis (pinkeye)
- viral meningitis
Symptoms of adenoviruses include:
- sore throat
Prevention & Treatment
As mentioned above, doctors currently have not come up with any vaccines or treatments for AFM. The best defense they have continued to provide is maintaining good hygiene and the usual precautions for preventing sickness, such as:
- covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing
- staying at home when you are sick to prevent spreading the sickness or making it worse
- continuing to wash hands after use of any public material
- disinfecting household surfaces
- protecting yourself from mosquitos, as they are a common way for viruses to spread
Medical care should be sought after at the first sight of any of the above symptoms. Though there are not any specific treatments for AFM yet, doctors are still able to provide “supportive care” by treating some of the symptoms that arise.
Such treatments may include physical and occupational therapy for limb disabilities. Enteroviruses usually appear around the late summer and early fall and cease once winter arrives. Therefore, it is expected that the worst of this specific outbreak has passed.
Yet, it can never hurt to take extra care and be mindful of your health. Continue to take all the necessary precautions and remain aware of the ways that your surroundings could contain possible risks for you or your children. If any of these symptoms do arise in you or a loved one, do not hesitate to seek immediate assistance from a healthcare professional.