This week Minnesota reported an outbreak of a rare condition of the nervous system that has affected six children across the state. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which can cause death in its most severe cases, does not currently have a cure and complete recovery can take several months.
“While the rare condition, which results in acute muscle weakness and the loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs, typically strikes one patient in the Midwestern US state annually, six children under the age of ten were hospitalized with it in Minnesota, starting from mid-September, the Department of Health (MDH) reported. Cases of AFM were confirmed in the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota.
‘MDH disease investigators are working aggressively with health care providers to gather information about the cases,’ state health officials said in a statement. ‘The department is also in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to share information.’”1
The CDC continues to do extensive lab testing but still has “no clue what pathogen (germ) or immune response causes AFM.” However, the CDC reports that “patients’ symptoms are similar to ‘complications of infection with certain viruses, such as poliovirus and West Nile virus.’” 2
Also known as Enterovirus 68 (EV68), acute cases can lead to “dysfunction of the nerves controlling the head and neck, with noted facial weakness, drooping of the eyes and difficulty swallowing,”34 with the most severe cases potentially leading “to respiratory failure and eventually death, if the muscles responsible for breathing become too weak to carry out their functions.”5
The CDC continues to do extensive lab testing but still has “no clue what pathogen (germ) or immune response causes AFM.” However, the CDC reports that “patients’ symptoms are similar to ‘complications of infection with certain viruses, such as poliovirus and West Nile virus.’” 6
During the summer of 2014, the US saw an outbreak of the neurologic illness; Minnesota had three EV68 cases and another 120 patients were diagnosed with the ailment in 34 states. In the last four years, 362 cases of AFM were reported in the US.7 (Could that have anything to do with the polio vaccine? Many believe it does.) This year, the CDC reports there have been 38 confirmed cases of the polio-like condition across 16 states. 8
Again, there is currently no specific treatment for AFM. Doctors must intervene “on a case-by-case basis and can recommend immunoglobulin, corticosteroids, plasma exchange and antiviral therapy as a potential therapy.”
If you are a parent and notice any of the AFM symptoms in your child you are urged to immediately contact their doctor.