AFM is a serious but rare condition that affects a portion of the spinal cord, causing muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak, according to the CDC. It can also be caused by poliovirus and non-polio enteroviruses, mosquito-borne viruses (such as West Nile virus or Zika virus) and possibly by non-infectious conditions.
Health officials say they do not yet know the long-term effects of AFM. "It's incredibly heartbreaking to see this".
From August 2014 through August 2018, the CDC received reports of 362 AFM cases, mostly in children, it said. A 2-year-old girl was recently diagnosed in the Chicago area, and UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh confirmed that three children are now being treated for AFM at their facility.
This coincided with a national outbreak of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), leading experts to believe acute flaccid myelitis is associated with the respiratory illness.
Symptoms include limb weakness, facial drooping, and trouble swallowing or speaking. According to the CDC, the largest number of cases, about 50, were reported in September 2014 before dropping to single digits in following months.
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Indeed, AFM is exceedingly rare: The CDC estimates that fewer than one in a million people in the US get it each year, though it has been on the rise since a 2014 outbreak, sparking a CDC investigation. The disease typically affects children; all the recent cases in Minnesota were in children younger than 10.
The mysterious illness that's paralyzing children is spreading across the United States, with cases popping up in both Chicago and Pittsburgh after initial reports from Minnesota. The cause of most of the AFM cases is unknown.
Additionally, the CDC has found a possible link between an increase in a respiratory virus and an increase of AFM. In some cases, it can lead to paralysis or death but Dr. Robinette says this is a very rare complication of a common infection.
Parents who see AFM symptoms in their children, such as not using an arm, should contact health providers as soon as possible so that diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cerebral spinal fluid testing can be done as soon as possible.
Because AFM can develop as a result of a viral infection, the MDH and CDC recommend that parents and children take basic steps to avoid infections and stay healthy. Until then, doctors are treating the cases as if they are AFM.