A rare but serious condition affecting children is causing concern nationwide this fall. Acute flaccid myelitis, abbreviated as AFM, and described as a polio-like illness, has afflicted a confirmed 158 individuals in 36 states so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is AFM?

  • AFM, or acute flaccid myelitis, is a rare but devastating polio-like virus which causes partial paralysis.
  • AFM affects the “Gray Matter” area of the spinal cord that controls motor movement.
  • Approximately 90 percent of confirmed cases are pediatric patients.

What symptoms should parents look for?

  • New, sudden or unexplained muscle weakness, usually in one or more limbs, such as an arm or a leg.
    • Face and speech with symptoms like:
    • Facial droop
    • Drooping (lazy) eyelids
    • Slurred speech, or
    • Difficulty swallowing
  • If you notice your child has developed any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.

What are the chances my child could be affected?

  • AFM is quite rare. Overall, the rate of AFM is less than one in a million in the United States each year.
    • The CDC has confirmed 386 cases of acute flaccid myelitis since the first wave of the condition occurred in 2014. And there appears to be a spike in cases every two years, with 120 confirmed cases in 2014 and 149 in 2016. (There were 22 cases in 2015 and 33 in 2017.)

What causes AFM?

  • It remains largely unknown what causes the condition but there are a variety of possible causes including viruses and environmental toxins. Certain viruses that can cause AFM include:
    • Poliovirus and non-polio enteroviruses
    • West Nile virus
    • adenovirus
  • AFM has been linked to some common cold viruses, particularly enterovirus (D68), which is essentially a respiratory illness, but the CDC and others are actively conducting research and laboratory testing to find the cause and better understand the condition.

How is it treated?

  • Although many different therapies have been tried for AFM, there is currently no specific treatment that has proven beneficial. Standard therapy is supportive with aggressive physical therapy to help patients regain movement.

What can parents do to help prevent AFM?

  • Since the illness may be linked to certain viruses, general good health and hygiene practices, like handwashing, are recommended.
  • Stay current on all vaccinations, specifically polio.
  • Use insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites. Viruses like West Nile may play a role in some AFM cases.

Visit the CDC for more information on AFM.

Disclaimer: Content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.