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Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) Cases Lead To Concerns Over Polio-Like Illnesses Among Children

Federal health officials have raised concerns about a growing number of cases involving acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a polio-like illness, which can cause paralysis in children. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched an AFM investigation this week, which will closely monitor both suspected and confirmed acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) cases, as part of an effort to better understand risk factors and possible causes of the condition.

Acute flaccid myelitisis a rare, but serious neurological illness, which is very similar to polio illness, resulting in the development of paralysis. Acute flaccid myelitis has a sudden onset and directly affects the individual’s spine and nervous system, causing the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak.

While the number of AFM cases remains fairly low, with one in a million people diagnosed with the condition, CDC officials have noticed an increase in the amount of confirmed cases annually. CDC officials recorded 120 confirmed cases of the illness in 2014, 22 in 2015, 149 in 2016, 33 in 2017 and 62 so far in 2018.

So far in 2018, there have been at least 127 reports of acute flaccid myelitis, and 62 of them have been confirmed. The majority of these cases are from 2018, and many of the previous years have been reported in August and September.

Although the cause of acute flaccid myelitisis unknown, there are a variety of possible suspects, including viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders. CDC officials have tested many different specimens from acute flaccid myelitis patients in search of a consistent pathogen in the spinal fluid, however none has been detected to date.

CDC officials are investigating what causes the sudden onset of acute flaccid myelitis and why there has been a sudden influx in confirmed cases since 2014. Although children have a higher diagnosis rate, the CDC has not determined who may be at a higher risk for developing acute flaccid myelitis.

Researchers are also investigating the long term effects of the illness. In previous reports, some patients diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis have recovered quickly, whereas others have been found to continue to suffer from paralysis requiring ongoing care.

The CDC’s investigation will require help from state and local health departments to send information about suspected cases, verify clinical information of suspected cases, and testing specimens including stools, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid.

Investigators will take a closer look at the last 10 years of confirmed cases and examine patient MRI scans to better understand the cases and potential causes and how often the condition occurs.

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