Over 60 children have been diagnosed with AFM this year in 22 states! While the cause of this potentially deadly illness is unknown, we spoke to a pediatrician about what to look out for and how best to avoid it.
Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is on the rise — so how can you keep your kids safe? The polio-like illness, which can cause weakness and paralysis in children, has been diagnosed 62 times this year. And while increases were seen in Minnesota, California and Colorado earlier this month, AFM has now hit 22 states. So why is it suddenly on the rise? “It’s unclear what causes AFM, but it could be a viral infection, environmental toxin or genetic disorder,” Dr. Jennifer Shu, MD, Pediatrician in Atlanta and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn, told Hollywoodlife.com EXCLUSIVELY. “The cause of the recent increase is unknown.” As scary as that sounds, there are ways to try avoiding an AFM diagnosis.
“Use good hand-washing habits and get the recommended childhood vaccines,” she said. “Because some viruses spread by mosquitoes have been linked with AFM, use insect repellent to avoid mosquito bites.” One of the viruses the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to AFM, for example, is Enterovirus D68, which has also been linked to polio. Kids who have asthma may be more susceptible to this, and if a diagnosis occurs despite these preventative actions, treatment for the disease varies. “Patients may benefit from physical and/or occupational therapy to improve function,” Dr. Shu explained. “A ventilator may be needed for people who have respiratory failure.”
That’s because symptoms of AFM can, of course, vary in intensity. Dr. Shu recommended looking out for “sudden onset of weakness of one or more limbs. There may also be facial weakness, slurred speech or difficulty swallowing. In severe cases, there may be breathing failure or serious neurologic problems that can cause death.” Fortunately, none of the 62 children who have been diagnosed so far have died from AFM.
The disease is most common during the months of August, September and October, so here’s to hoping the scary spike in AFM diagnoses begins winding down. But until then, keep an eye out for the symptoms above.