Vaccines eradicated polio from the United States almost four decades ago, but a new virus with similar symptoms is now spreading across the country. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) first appeared in 2014, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just confirmed 50 new cases in 24 states as of this year. Even worse, 90% of those are children.
Scientists don't know much yet, but AFM affects the spinal cord, causing paralysis. Besides losing control of their arms and legs, many kids also need respirators to help breathe. While 85% of patients partially recover, only three have regained full mobility.
"The key with AFM is that it's sudden onset," Dr. Manisha Patel told CNN. "Symptoms include limb weakness, facial drooping and difficulty swallowing and talking." The AFM team lead at the CDC also shared that most children first experience fever and respiratory illness. "Five days later, they would develop pain in the arms and legs, and weakness followed," she said.
When doctors first reported AFM in 2014, it coincided with a national outbreak of Enterovirus 68, but it's unclear if the two diseases are related. Experts are still determining the exact cause of AFM, who's at risk and a potential cure. Current treatment just addresses the effects, which can range from mild weakness to complete paralysis.
To keep you and your children healthy, the CDC recommends taking a few preventative measures:
- Get up to date on all recommended vaccines, including the polio virus.
- Protect yourself against mosquito-borne diseases by using insect repellent; AFM has been linked to West Nile virus.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after contact with sick people.
If your child does exhibit signs of AFM, such as unexplained limb weakness, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
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