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Understanding Acute Flaccid Myelitis

Posted on Oct 29, 2018

Juan Dumois, M.D.

Florida state health officials confirm there now are two cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) under investigation, up from a single case a week ago. Juan Dumois, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease expert from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, explains more about this trending illness.

What is AFM? 

AFM is a condition that looks a lot like polio. It causes sudden weakness that usually occurs after a recent cold or diarrhea illness. The weakness can be seen in an arm, leg or even the eyelids.

Why are we hearing more about it now?

Although this is not a new condition, it seems that we have been seeing more cases of AFM in the United States over the last four years. This year, there have been 62 confirmed cases in 22 states and more cases that are under investigation. We do not know what is causing these cases of AFM, but some previous episodes have been attributed to different viruses like West Nile virus, acquired from mosquito bites, or enteroviruses, acquired from contact with other persons.

What should parents do if they see their child develop sudden weakness, and they are worried about AFM?

They should take their child to see the pediatrician or to a pediatric emergency center if they are really seeing sudden weakness in an arm or leg. Their child needs to be evaluated because there are other conditions that can also cause a child to develop sudden weakness in an arm or leg. They may have to be hospitalized for the evaluation.

What can be done to prevent acquiring this illness?

Since we don’t know what is causing the recent cases, we cannot accurately describe how to prevent them. But based on the viruses associated with previous cases, is a good idea to teach good hand hygiene before eating or drinking using alcohol-based hand sanitizers or soap and water. Using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites is also a good idea.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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