6 things to know about AFM, the mysterious illness affecting kids

6 things to know about AFM, the mysterious illness affecting kids

6 things to know about AFM, the mysterious illness affecting kids

The cause of AFM is unclear, leaving parents wondering how to protect their children.

"We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned about AFM", said Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The 2014 outbreak of AFM coincided with a surge of another virus that caused severe respiratory problems, called EV-D68, However, the CDC could not establish a causal link between AFM and the virus. According to data supplied by the CDC, the illness seems to spike around the month of September.

2017: 33 cases across 16 states. The long-term effects are unknown. But Messonnier cautioned that it would be "premature" to conclude that this year will be the same as the earlier years. Still, no vaccine is available for AFM & the treatment carried is also case on case basis. The rare but serious disorder affects a person's nervous system, specifically the spinal cord.

Although there is unlikely to be a vaccine or specific treatment anytime soon, there are still things researchers can do to combat AFM, Messacar says, such as keeping better track of enterovirus D68 and A71 infections, learning more about the link between the viruses and AFM, and understanding the genetic changes that have occurred in enterovirus D68 to make it more unsafe.

Meanwhile, another 65 cases are under investigation for AFM, whose symptoms start off resembling those of a common cold and affecting children at an average age of four years old.

Messonnier noted the rarity of the condition, emphasizing that it happens in fewer than one in a million children in the nation.

Dr. Greenberg, an expert on spinal cord inflammation, said that a majority of patients recover but that the recovery can be slow.

The CDC's Messonnier said, "We know this can be frightening for parents".

"We want to encourage parents to seek medical care right away if you or your child develops symptoms of AFM, such as sudden weakness and loss of muscle tone in your arms or legs", she said. Some patients recover quickly and some need ongoing therapy for paralysis. Although there is no definitive diagnosis, doctors can identify AFM from a combination of symptoms and an MRI scan, which can reveal spine inflammation.

Health officials have determined the condition is caused by a viral infection, but they have been unable to determine the specific virus it is linked to.

Officials said they will be conducting additional analysis on this year's cases. "I'm sure there's something going on that can fix our kids", she said.

Patients are sometimes misdiagnosed with Transverse Myelitis or Guillain-Barre Syndrome and later diagnosed with AFM when they don't respond to standard treatments. It causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak or even paralyzed. No pathogen has been consistently detected in the patients' spinal fluid. The organization stresses the importance of having all polio vaccines up to date and to wear mosquito repellent when outdoors.

The CDC said the West Nile virus, adenoviruses, poliovirus and non-polio enteroviruses are also possible reasons why the illness has begun spreading.

There is now no cure for AFM, known cause in most cases, or clear explanation for why some people who contract the enterovirus experience symptoms and others do not.

But, if their child is diagnosed, parents should prepare for extensive physical therapy - therapy that isn't always covered by insurance, he said. The health department is investigating such suspected cases of illness in 25 states.

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