Healthwatch 16: Watching Out for AFM

Acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is a rare condition. We've been hearing a lot about it the past few months because it's a serious condition, and it seems to be attacking children.

It can be scary to think about AFM, or acute flaccid myelitis, a serious condition that affects the nervous system. It's not a new illness; doctors say it is reminiscent of polio.

"I think that everyone is very worried for a variety of reasons, including that it is preferentially affecting young children."

Dr. Anne Marie Morse is a pediatric neurologist at Geisinger. She says the health system treated one case of AFM back in August.

She explains researchers believe AFM is associated with a certain strain of an enterovirus. There are many types of enteroviruses. They're common, and mostly cause mild illness. But rarely, enteroviruses are more serious, and thought to be correlated with neurologic illness such as meningitis and encephalitis, both disorders that cause dangerous swelling.

"The viruses we think are related to the development of AFM which have some specific characteristics of what we saw with polio," said Dr. Morse.

According to the CDC, as of a few days ago, there were 80 confirmed cases nationwide and more than 200 possible cases under investigation, the vast majority of them, children.

But Dr. Morse, herself a mom, tried to put that into perspective.

"I have to remind myself and my husband that this is something being seen in 1 in 1 million children. So, it's an extremely rare disorder."

Dr. Morse says the best way to try to prevent AFM is to stay generally as healthy as possible: make sure your family is sleeping well, eating well, and washing their hands, and be sure everyone's up to date on vaccinations.

In terms of what to look for, Dr. Morse says if your child has been sick and suddenly has arm or leg weakness, loss of muscle tone, facial drooping, or difficulty swallowing, it's time to get medical help.

There isn't a known cure for AFM but there are various treatments.

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