Flu season is here, but parents have a new condition to be worried about for their kids: Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or AFM. It has been making headlines as alarming numbers of children are being paralyzed in a pattern that resembles polio scares in the past.
AFM has been in existence for a long time, but the recent rise in cases is what’s signaling danger. Polio was eradicated in the United States in 1979, however at this point in time there is no such future hope for AFM.
This dreaded condition has several possible causes including viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders. Symptoms often follow an infection and high fever. The suspected viruses that may cause AFM include poliovirus or non-polio enteroviruses, West Nile Virus and adenoviruses.
Although adults may contract this condition, most cases are in those under 18 years old. Symptoms parents should look out for include the sudden onset of drooping eyelids, difficulty moving the eyes, loss of reflexes or weakness in the limbs.
One of the more dangerous aspects of this condition is when the muscles of the lungs are affected, causing respiratory distress. Medical help should be sought immediately upon finding any of these or similar symptoms.
Scans, such as MRIs, of the spinal cord and brain will assist in the diagnosis of AFM. It is important to rule out other conditions such as Guillain-Barre that may have similar symptoms.
We currently do not have a specific treatment for AFM, but neurologists and physical therapists can sometimes recommend methods to help relieve symptoms.
The best prevention is common sense advice that would help to avoid any type of infection. Wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water to avoid germs from others, and wear insect repellent to avoid mosquito bites that may transmit the West Nile Virus.