Pediatrics | Published October 31, 2018

What we know about acute flaccid myelitis

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) has made headlines recently as an influx of cases have been confirmed across the country, including in Pennsylvania. In 2014, I wrote about a mysterious, polio-like illness, now known as AFM, that was affecting children in California. Here’s what we know four years later.

While AFM was originally compared as a polio-like illness, it is not polio. Enteroviruses, rhinoviruses and environmental toxins have been identified as causes in some of the recent diagnosed cases, but not all. And while this illness is not new, the increase in recent cases and the mystery surrounding the illness is still new.

AFM affects the nervous system specifically and causes muscles and reflexes to become weak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of AFM include:

  • Facial drooping/weakness
  • Difficulty moving eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech

Other symptoms may include numbness/tingling or pain in arms and legs. If you suspect your child has any of these symptoms, seek medical care right away.

The important thing to remember is that while AFM is scary, it is important not to panic. AFM is very rare. The best way to protect your child from getting sick is to:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Make sure your child is up to date on immunizations, including the poliovirus vaccine
  • Routinely clean and disinfect household surfaces
  • Keep your child home from school or day care when he or she is sick
  • Wear insect repellent when your child goes outdoors

If at any time you are concerned about your child’s health, speak with his or her pediatrician right away.