What Is Acute Flaccid Myelitis?

It’s a parent’s nightmare.  Your perfectly healthy child comes down with a bad cold.  While they’re miserable for a few days they get better as expected.  Then shortly after the cough and snot are gone, your child gets sick again.  Suddenly your child loses the ability to walk because their legs become very weak.

Since 2014 there has been a new, rare and severe neurological condition reported mostly in children called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).  This illness can result in permanent paralysis and the cause is not known.

Acute flaccid myelitis behaves almost exactly like polio but it is NOT caused by the poliovirus.  Doctors have checked and none of the patients have had poliovirus in their bodies.  However, almost all of the patients have had a fever or mild respiratory illness before the weakness started.  Most of the cases occur in the late summer and early fall, when the class of viruses that includes polio, enteroviruses, are most common.

AFM causes the sudden onset of weakness in one or more limbs.  Usually one side of the body is more seriously affected than the other.  There is usually no numbness or loss of sensation in the limb(s) although there may be associated pain.

Patients may also have trouble swallowing, weakness or drooping on one side of the face, double vision, problems speaking, and in severe cases trouble breathing.  If you or your child develops these sort of symptoms it is important to get care right away because treatment can be lifesaving.  Even though the cause isn’t known, prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical.

Other illnesses can behave like acute flaccid myelitis.  A stroke, West Nile Virus, Guillain-Barre syndrome and some other infections are on the list.

It’s estimated that one to two in a million children in the US will get AFM per year.  That’s REALLY rare, but very serious.  Parents need to know that if their child seems lethargic or has any weakness at all, they should seek care immediately.

QUESTION: Have you heard of acute flaccid myelitis?

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2 thoughts on “What Is Acute Flaccid Myelitis?

    • It’s possible but very unlikely. Remember, we don’t know what causes it or why it mostly affects children. Anyone with a sudden onset of weakness, trouble swallowing, trouble speaking or trouble breathing should seek care right away!

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