(RxWiki News) You might have heard the recent reports of US children suddenly becoming weak in their arms or legs. Here’s what you need to know about this condition.
The recent reports involve a condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). Some have called AFM a polio-like condition.
Although this condition is not new, there has been an increase in the number of AFM cases, which began in 2014.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between August 2014 and September 2018, there were 386 confirmed cases of AFM in the US. Most of the cases were in children.
AFM is a condition that affects the nervous system — specifically the spinal cord. It causes the body’s muscles and reflexes to not work the way they should.
Even with the recent increase in the number of cases, AFM is still a rare condition (affecting fewer than one in a million people). Although rare, AFM is serious and can lead to neurologic problems.
Viruses and environmental toxins have been listed as the possible causes of AFM. The CDC has been investigating AFM since August 2014, when it was made aware of more cases.
The CDC strongly recommends that parents seek immediate medical attention for their children if they notice any of the following AFM symptoms:
- Arm or leg weakness
- Loss of muscle tone
- Weakness in the face or facial droop
- Drooping eyelids or difficulty moving the eyes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Slurred speech
Some people may experience pain in their arms or legs, while some are unable to pass urine. AFM can also cause severe symptoms like respiratory failure.
A diagnosis of AFM will include examining the nervous system and looking at pictures of the spinal cord.
Your health care provider may choose to do an MRI to look at the brain and spinal cord or perform lab tests on the cerebrospinal fluid.
Possible Causes of AFM
The CDC has not yet determined what has caused the recent cases of AFM or identified the pathogen (germ) or immune response that has led to weakness and paralysis in some patients’ arms and legs.
However, the CDC has noted that certain viruses, such as poliovirus, West Nile virus and adenoviruses, may sometimes lead to conditions like AFM. The CDC has listed ways to protect yourself and your children from these viruses:
- Be sure your children are up to date on their polio vaccinations.
- Protect yourself and your family against bites from mosquitoes. This is because mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus. To protect yourself, use mosquito repellent, stay indoors at dusk and dawn, and remove standing or stagnant water near your home. For more information, read Mosquito Season: How To Fight Back
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. This is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick.
Treatment for AFM
Although there is not a specific treatment for AFM, a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in the brain) may recommend certain interventions. Interventions may involve physical or occupational therapy to help with weakness in the arms and legs.
The CDC continues to take steps to learn as much as possible about AFM.
Ask your health care provider any questions you have about acute flaccid myelitis.