Last month, a number of children increasingly fell prey to a mysterious disease that left them suddenly paralysed in the US. The disease known as acute flaccid myelitis or AFM is a condition that affects the nervous system, causing paralysis. The disease itself is quite rare, touted to affect one or two in a million children year. But the repercussions of the disease can be quite serious. The recent outbreak notwithstanding, there have been previous outbreaks of AFM in 2014 where 100 children were affected. But this year, in what is seen as America’s biggest paralysis outbreak, a total of 252 cases has been recorded.
The outbreak is seen in at least five states of USA – Illinois, Washington, Colorado, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. According to the New York Times, some health authorities in the states are saying that the symptoms of the condition coincide with respiratory illnesses that are seasonal.
What is Acute Flaccid Myelitis?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AFM affects the area of the spinal cord known as grey matter, which results in muscle weakness and a breakdown of reflexes. The disease is seen mostly in young children. According to CDC, 90 percent of the patients developed viral fever-like symptoms before developing AFM. Know the Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Poliomyelitis.
What Are Its Symptoms?
Symptoms of the disease include sudden weakness of the limbs, and loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Apart from these, other symptoms include:
- Facial drooping
- Difficulty while making eye movements
- Drooping eyelids
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Speech problems
People with AFM face issues such as pain in the arms or legs along with a tingling sensation in the limbs. Some people may also face difficulty in passing urine. Will Polio Return to India? Contaminated Vaccines Raise Concerns That the Eradicated Disease May Strike Again.
The most severe symptom of AFM is the loss of respiratory ability, which can happen if the muscles that support breathing becomes paralysed. The person may have to be put on ventilator support. Polio-Like Rare Mysterious Disease Takes Over the US; 38 Kids Affected By Now.
In some rare cases, the processes that trigger AFM could also cause other serious neurological complications that could lead to death.
What Causes AFM?
Viruses like poliovirus, enterovirus and West Nile virus, have a role to play in the development of the disease. CDC even detected coxsackievirus A16, EV-A71, and EV-D68 in the spinal fluid of four of 414 confirmed cases of AFM since 2014.
How is AFM Diagnosed?
To diagnose the disorder, doctors start by examining the patient’s nervous system and inspecting pictures of the spinal cord. They examine the areas on the patient’s body where there is a weakness, poor muscle tone and decreased reflexes.
An MRI of the brain can also show nerve conduction and response. Despite this, AFM can be notoriously tricky to diagnose because the symptoms overlap with Guillain-Barre and transverse myelitis.
How is AFM Treated?
Although there’s no specific treatment for AFM, a neurologist may be the best authority in treating it, mainly since they deal with diseases of the brain and spinal cord. Other interventions, such as physiotherapy, can be recommended on a case-by-case basis.
Is Prevention Better Than Cure?
According to Dr Nancy Messonnier, director for the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, some patients recover fully from AFM. She also adds, “But at least half of the patients don’t recover.”
Doctors still don’t understand the long-term consequences of the disease in every patient. So it’s best to assume that prevention is the best bet against the disease.