What You Need to Know About Acute Flaccid Myelitis, the Polio-Like Disease That's Spreading in Kids
The rapid spread of a polio-like disease across the U.S. is causing concern within the medical community. Since the start of 2018, there have been 127 reported cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), with 62 of those cases confirmed in 22 states, NBC reports. Unlike polio, there's no vaccine for AFM, and doctors aren't entirely sure what causes it or how it spreads. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to educate themselves on the condition.
AFM is a disease that attacks the gray matter of the victim's spinal cord, which can cause serious damage to the central nervous system. Symptoms like muscle weakness, facial drooping, limb paralysis, and trouble swallowing or slurred speech can manifest quickly and require immediate medical attention. There is no specific way to treat the disease or reverse its effects, but physical therapy can help some victims regain mobility.
The condition usually develops following a viral infection, such as enterovirus and West Nile virus, but there's no one virus is linked to AFM. Environmental toxins and autoimmune diseases can also trigger it.
Acute flaccid myelitis has been on the rise since 2014, and the CDC expects to see a higher-than-average number of cases this year. The department isn't sure of what's causing the spike, but even with incidents on the rise, the disease is still incredibly rare. It affects mostly children under age 19, and kids younger than 4 account for most of the cases. The chances of a kid contracting the infection in the U.S. are less than one in 1 million.
To protect yourself and your children against AFM, the CDC recommends following general good health practices. Stay up-to-date on your vaccines, avoid mosquitos, and wash your hands regularly and thoroughly to ward off viruses.