Cases of Acute Flaccid Myelitis on the rise across U.S.

According to the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), cases of dangerous and rare Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) are being noted across United States. This disease manifests similar to acute flaccid paralysis caused by polio virus say the experts. There is at present no treatment for this condition that primarily affects children and leads to paralysis of the limbs.

The health officials are at their wits end trying to control and understand AFM. The disease till date has been noted to have a spontaneous recovery in most children but it killed one child last year, according to sources. The researchers have noted that this disease primarily affects the spinal cord and the nervous system.

The CDC reports that since 2014 there have been 386 cases of AFM and most of these patients have been under the age of 18 years. The average age of this affliction has been found to be four. The confirmed cases have been recorded from 22 of the 50 states in the US.

According to Nancy Messonnier director of the CDC’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, the cause of the illness is yet to be identified. She added that there have been 62 confirmed cases of this infection this year. There are several more that are under investigation and the season of this affliction has not yet finished she warned. “AFM can be caused by other viruses, such as enterovirus and west nile virus, environmental toxins and a condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys body tissue that it mistakes for foreign material. While we know that these can cause AFM, we have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases,” she said.

The disease usually starts with a mild fever and cold and there is intense weakness and paralysis of the limbs. According to Messonnier the course of the illness is “dramatic”. There is a “sudden onset” of weakness and the patients need to seek help from paediatricians and neurologists.

Among causes, experts add, could be viral infections, toxins and genetic predispositions. In some patients rhinoviruses and enteroviruses have been isolated but since not all patients harbour these viruses, the cause cannot be pinpointed to these viruses alone.

Ms Messonnier said, “CDC has tested every stool specimen from the AFM patients, and none of the specimens have tested positive for the poliovirus.”

There have been no cases of polio induced paralysis in the US since 1979. She added that long term consequences of this disease are not known. Only clear factor noted is the fact that one in a million person is afflicted with this illness annually. No specific treatment being available physicians are providing supportive treatment to the patients allowing them to recover spontaneously in the hospital set up. The main agenda is to provide adequate support medically and prevent complications in these patients.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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