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Polio-Like Illness Is Becoming More Prevalent in the U.S.

By Savannah Cooper
On October 24, 2018

The CDC has confirmed at least 62 cases in 22 states just this year.
Photo Courtesy of KEPR

As the year comes to a close, the CDC confirms an increase in the number of AFM cases in children in the United States.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis, more commonly known as AFM, is a very rare condition that is continuing to grow in numbers in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains on its website, “[AFM] affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, causing weakness in one or more limbs.” The CDC has confirmed at least 62 cases in 22 states in this year alone.

Some symptoms of AFM include weakness and loss of muscle tone in limbs, facial drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech. Because the spike of cases started in 2014, not a lot of information is known about the illness. This means the exact cause and overall effects are not yet known.

Because AFM has been seen most recently in children, medical professionals advise parents to seek immediate help if their children show any of the symptoms.

Virginia Hull, a physician assistant at New Hope Family Practice in Princeton explains her understanding of AFM by stating, “Acute Flaccid Myelitis is a neurological condition with no true known cause. It has recently been associated with an enterovirus that causes respiratory symptoms.”

She goes on by saying, “Recently, it has been seen more in children than adults. AFM causes muscle weakness, and some have linked it to polio because of the symptoms.”

This year, AFM has received more coverage than previous years even though it has been around since around 2014. Hull explains why she believes the media is covering the story, and why more cases are being seen.

“Sometimes just making the public more aware of the symptoms of and illness leads to more diagnoses of diseases in multiple states.” She speculates that social media and more transparency of the CDC has contributed to the increase of media coverage.

Because little is known about AFM, doctors and specialists are still unable to give definite ways to prevent the illness. Most prevention instructions are the same as prevention for everyday sicknesses.

Hull gives her recommendations on ways to prevent AFM by stating, “My biggest tip is to wash hands with good old soap and water. Also, avoid public places when you are sick or still getting over an illness. Avoiding eating and drinking after people and getting a flu shot could help too. Lastly, it is very important to keep all immunizations up to date.”

The Health Department released an informative document going into detail about all the facts known about AFM. They include prevention methods that coincide with Hull’s tips.

The Health Department states, “Being up to date on polio shots is one way to protect yourself and your family. Check with your doctor to make sure your family is up to date on all recommended shots. You can protect yourself from mosquito-borne viruses such as West Nile virus—a known cause of acute flaccid myelitis — by using mosquito repellent and staying indoors at dusk and dawn, which is the prime period that mosquitoes bite.”

They go on, “While we don’t know if effective in preventing AFM, washing your hands the right way is one of the best things you and your children can do to protect against getting sick.”

As more cases are reported, medical professionals are able to study and learn more about the illness. Right now, doctors are not concerned that it will become a pandemic. With the information doctors have now, and the idea that the disease is not an airborne virus, medical professionals believe the chances of getting AFM are one in 1 million.

Although the chances are slim, medical professionals, such as Hull, are encouraging people to keep themselves and their children safe and vaccinated.

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