Newswise — A rare neurological disease has recently taken center stage in the United States. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the cause of eight hospitalizations in the Seattle-area alone, all of which involved children with polio-like symptoms. As of September 2016, 89 people in 33 states were confirmed to have AFM, with the CDC expressing concern about the sharp spike in cases in recent months. While AFM remains rare, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and know how best to protect your child. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles medical expert Jill Hoffman, MD, Infectious Diseases, shares some important information on AFM.
What is acute flaccid myelitis?
Hoffman: AFM is a polio-like condition that affects the nervous system and can cause lifelong paralysis. It can result from a variety of causes including viral infections. The most recent cases are associated with an enterovirus called D68.
What are the symptoms that parents should be aware of?
Hoffman: Some kids will have respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms and then develop sudden weakness or decreased movement of one or more extremity.
What actions should parents take when these symptoms are apparent?
Hoffman: Bring your child to their pediatrician or the nearest emergency department.
Why are we seeing an increase in cases? Hoffman: Enteroviruses are very common late summer and fall viruses, and different types circulate in different years. Most cause no symptoms or mild upper respiratory infection or gastrointestinal issues and are self-limited, which means they completely resolve without treatment. Is CHLA prepared to see patients with AFM? Hoffman: We are always prepared. We are very good at recognizing these cases, and flaccid paralysis of extremities in a child is rare and notable. So, these symptoms come to our attention very quickly.
What is the treatment and what has been the outcome?
Hoffman: Though we are able to diagnose this syndrome, there is currently no antiviral therapy that has been shown to improve outcome even with ongoing physical therapy. In other words, most patients diagnosed with AFM are left with some neurologic sequelae that is likely permanent.
What kind of specialists would a child see if discovered they have AFM?
Hoffman: Usually Neurology and Infectious Diseases
How can parents protect their children?
Hoffman: Teaching how to properly wash hands and cough etiquette. These are both difficult with small children, but parents should model and teach kids as early as possible to do the same.
Should parents be worried?
Hoffman: No, as this is a very rare outcome.
About Children’s Hospital Los AngelesChildren's Hospital Los Angeles has been named the best children’s hospital in California and among the top ten in the nation for clinical excellence with its selection to the prestigious US News & World Report Honor Roll. Children’s Hospital is home to The Saban Research Institute, one of the largest and most productive pediatric research facilities in the United States. The hospital is also one of America's premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation since 1932 with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.