Cases of acute flaccid myelitis, otherwise known as AFM, are on the rise across the country. 22 states have confirmed cases of the rare polio-like illness.
According to the CDC, there are now more than 125 confirmed or suspected cases. According to Texas State Health officials, ten confirmed cases are in Texas. That has put experts in our region, like Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Ching Wang, on high alert.
“It’s raising everybody’s attention,” Dr. Wang said, a pediatric neurologist at the hospital. “This is a very, very rare disease, usually affecting no more than one-in-a-million.”
AFM affects the nervous system and spinal cord. Similar to polio, those who contract AFM will have sudden muscle or limb weakness. In some cases, patients can quickly take a turn for the worse and become paralyzed.
“So they [children] could go from pretty active; running, jumping, to totally paralyzed,” Dr. Wang said.
So far, paralysis has been reported in about 90% of cases. But there’s still little known about the condition because the first cases were reported back in 2014. Doctors believe it could have come from an enterovirus – the same umbrella of illnesses polio falls under.
However because this condition is so new, there are no vaccinations to prevent it.
“This is potentially severe,” Dr. Wang said. “We need to definitely identify the cause of it, so the more cases that we have, the better we are able to study them.”
State health officials say if the current pattern continues, they expect to see an increase in cases this year.
Dr. Wong says the best protection is practicing good hygiene and washing your hands.