The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is running a study with the National Institutes of Health and partnering with seven hospitals this season to further investigate a rare, mysterious neurological condition called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. Last year, health officials confronted a record number of cases, with 98 percent of patients requiring hospitalization and more than half of those admitted to intensive care units. The CDC is now evaluating every 2018 case as well as being vigilant for any new cases that arise.
In 2018, there were 233 cases of acute flaccid myelitis in 41 states, the largest reported outbreak so far. Since 2014, when officials first started tracking the condition, there have been 570 recorded cases. It appears to peak in alternate years from August through October. In the off years, much smaller numbers of cases are recorded. There have been 11 confirmed cases so far this year.
Much about the illness is still a mystery. There has been no common denominator found so far among affected children. Health officials don’t know why the cases become so severe in some people and not in others. No proven treatment has yet been found, but physical therapy and rehabilitation have helped some of the children regain their muscle strength after the illness.
Doctors say that AFM is like polio because it affects the nervous system in a similar way. The illness is characterized by muscle weakness in the legs or arms and, in severe cases, paralysis. Other symptoms may include drooping eyelids or face muscles, problems swallowing, slurred speech, and stiffness in the neck. The average age of children affected by AFM is 5 years old.