The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a call to action to warn of a potential outbreak between the end of this summer and winter of a rare, but potentially lethal disease that affects young children. Seeking medical attention right away could make all the difference in cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).
The disease “is a medical emergency that requires immediate recognition and care,” said CDC director Robert Redfield. He spoke in a media conference call.
AFM is a rare, rapid onset neurological disease affecting the spinal cord leading to paralysis. Symptoms of AFM include sudden arm or leg weakness, difficulty walking, limb pain, back pain or neck pain. AFM can cause paralysis over the course of hours to days, which may require a ventilator for breathing.
It most commonly affects young children. Parents are being asked to seek medical care immediately if a child develops a sudden arm or leg weakness.
Most children with AFM will have a fever or respiratory illness about six days before weakness occurs. For this reason, AFM has been associated with viruses, and specifically one called Enterovirus D68. But why some children get AFM and some don’t isn’t yet clear.
In 2018, the United States experienced the third and largest outbreak of AFM with 238 cases in 42 states between August and November.
The average age was just 5 years old. At least 98 percent of those children were hospitalized, and over half were admitted to the intensive care unit, while 20 percent required a ventilator to breathe.
While many children will recover to their usual state of health after AFM, many will have permanent disability.
The same hygiene precautions for COVID-19 apply to viruses that cause AFM. As some of the symptoms of COVID-19 may overlap with AFM, parents should be on high alert this season.