The CDC has confirmed 116 cases of a rare polio-like disease called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) in the U.S. this year as of the date of this post. Found in 31 states as of Monday, over 90% of the cases involve children under the age of 18. For the most part, those affected were experiencing a mild respiratory illness before contracting the disease.
What is AFM?
Acute flaccid myelitis affects the nervous system, specifically gray matter of the spinal cord. This weakens the muscles and reflexes, causing symptoms such as drooping of the face and eyelids, difficulty moving eyes and swallowing, and slurred speech. Limbs can become paralyzed, and in serious cases, patients can have difficulty breathing due to weakened muscles. However, although similar in symptoms to polio, all specimens taken from patients with AFM tested negative for poliovirus. The CDC will continue to study risk factors and causes for AFM in order to discern why some individuals contract the disease and others do not.
An AFM task force was established by the CDC on November 19th of this year, “to aid in the ongoing investigation to define the cause of, and improve treatment and outcomes for, patients with AFM.” Formed under the CDC’s Office of Infectious Diseases’ Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC), the task force is made up of a variety of experts from scientific, medical, and public health fields. Their objective is to inform the BSC of stronger response methods the CDC can make in dealing with the AFM public health crisis.
How to Avoid Contracting AFM
Although the causes of the majority of the AFM cases are unknown, the CDC recommends three main prevention methods individuals can take:
You can protect yourself and your children from poliovirus by getting vaccinated. Polio vaccine contains inactivated (not live) virus, and protects against poliovirus. This vaccine does not protect against other viruses that may cause AFM.
You can protect against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).
You can protect yourself and others from enteroviruses by washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, including toys.