FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ACUTE FLACCID MYELITIS
Parents and pediatricians should be on alert for a rare neurological condition afflicting children that can lead to long-term paralysis and, infrequently, death, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday. While acute flaccid myelitis has been around for years at low levels, serious outbreaks began in 2014, when 120 children in the U.S. were afflicted. Since then, it’s struck in rising numbers every other year in
late summer and fall.
It has already started to emerge this year, with 16 children in the U.S. diagnosed and one death as of the end of July. Another 38 cases are under investigation. AFM is believed to be a complication of a viral infection, most likely an outbreak strain of enterovirus D68, though the exact cause
hasn’t been confirmed.
The biggest red flag for the condition is muscle weakness, and children who develop it should be rushed to the hospital, CDC director Robert Redfield said Tuesday. “AFM is a medical emergency that requires immediate care,” he said. AFM is a serious condition of the spinal cord; paralysis can develop within hours.
GO TO THE HOSPITAL
The agency is concerned that
parents might hesitate in taking their kids to the doctor amid the coronavirus outbreak,
instead waiting to see if they recover at home. That would be a mistake, Redfield said. While many children do suffer permanent weakness or paralysis, early and aggressive physical therapy may help them strengthen
the function they do retain.
KEEP AN EYE OUT
Most cases are preceded by fever or respiratory troubles, which can complicate spotting it since those are common to other illnesses. Increased vigilance spurred by COVID-19 could help spot it earlier, while steps that are being taken to avoid coronavirus may avert, reduce or delay the expected outbreak of AFM in 2020, Redfield said.
HITS THE YOUNG
While the condition is similar to polio, patients test negative for the poliovirus, which has been eliminated thanks to vaccines. This year could be the worst to date, as there has been a rising
number of cases with each outbreak. More than half of the 238 children affected in 2018 needed intensive care, and a quarter of them were placed on a ventilator. The average age
was five. There is no cure.