Public health officials are concerned with the cause of a rare polio-like disease, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). AFM effects the central nervous system producing weakness in one or more limbs. It principally affects children and may lead to paralysis – like polio. Dissimilar to polio, AFM does not have a vaccine, and there are no known proven effective therapies.
Cases of AFM spiked for the first time in 2014 with a record high of 124 confirmed cases. In 2018, an increase from 67 to 90 reported and 127 to 242 suspected cases have been seen over the last month announced the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on November 13.
While parents are desperate for answers, the CDC continues to investigate the etiology of AFM. Tests of cerebral spinal fluid, the clear fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, produced pathogens in only two of the confirmed cases this year.
Historically, since 2014, cases of AFM have rarely produced pathogens in tested cerebral spinal fluid samples. However, scientists do suspect a hidden viral infection to be the most likely culprit. The CDC continues to explore other potential causes including environmental toxins, genetic disorders and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
What is known from examining the confirmed cases is that AFM often presents as fever or respiratory symptoms three to ten days before limb weakness. At a recent news conference, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta, stated “this time of year, many children have fever and respiratory symptoms [and] most of them do not go on to develop AFM. We’re trying to figure out what the triggers are that would cause someone to develop AFM later”.