What is Acute Flaccid Myelitis? What Parents Need to Know

Grant Boone
October 13, 2018

We've been reporting about the polio-like illness affecting two children here in Chicago, nine in northern IL and others across the country, but how concerned should parents be about the spread to their children?

The two children are among nine recent cases of AFM - all involving minors - reported across the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"We want to be better to better understand the epidemiology of the disease". The newest case is in Skagit County.

DSHS said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not know the cause of AFM or how it's contracted, but said there is a trend of spikes every other year.

"If a parent notices a child with a weak or paralyzed limb, they should go to urgent care or the hospital immediately", said Julie Graham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health. It wasn't for two-year-old Maipele Burns, whose AFM attack caused her to lose all function in her right arm. With the help of testing and examinations, doctors can distinguish between AFM and other neurologic conditions.

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In Chicago, doctors say Julia Payne had an enterovirus that caused the AFM.

While there is no cure for the virus, neurologists can recommend treatments. Many people compare the disease to polio because it can cause problems that are very similar to the poliovirus.

The CDC says the number of cases appears to increase and decrease from one year to the next. Three cases were reported in 2017, and one earlier in 2018 before the current six cases. Environmental toxins and genetic disorders are also potentially involved in the development of the disease. "So, we've seen that there's an association between viruses, specifically enterovirus, in the past".

One case has also been confirmed in Wisconsin. "That enterovirus is transmittable from person to person, but you can't actually catch AFM from somebody else". In some cases, it can lead to paralysis or death but Dr. Robinette says this is a very rare complication of a common infection. Numbness or tingling is rare in people with AFM, although some people have pain in their arms or legs. State officials were unable to speak to that either, saying the investigational cases have been sent to the CDC. Adults have likely been exposed to the virus that causes this and have some sort of immunity.

The health department says there are no specific recommendations for avoiding AFM, but washing your hands, avoiding close contact with sick people, cleaning surfaces with disinfectants, and staying up-to-date on immunizations is recommended.

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