The Minnesota Department of Health released a statement Friday in which they said that six children had been diagnosed with “a rare condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).” The condition is often described as being similar to polio and is typically caused by Enterovirus 68, which is related to polio. The first reported case arose in September. All six cases have occurred in children under the age of 10 and resulted in their hospitalization.
AFM afflicts mostly children and has a sudden onset that appears in the form of localized muscle weakness in arms or legs that result from AFM’s attack on grey matter in the child’s spinal cord. It can follow a viral infection, but there are also genetic and environmental factors that may play a role in its development. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, neck weakness or stiffness, and drooping of the eyes or the facial muscles. It can result in paralysis, and there is no vaccine for AFM according to CNN. There is no current treatment for the condition or the virus believed to cause the condition. Treatment involves simply alleviating its symptoms.
The Department of Health’s statement indicates that 2014 saw a national increase in the number of reported cases of AFM, with a total of 120 cases reported in 34 states that year. An outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D 68 that year was believed to be the reason for the spike in numbers that year and only four cases were reported in Minnesota. Environmental toxins have also been identified as a possible cause of AFM.
Since then, there has been an average of less than one case of the illness per year. It isn’t yet known what has led to the increased number of cases this year. The CDC reports that fewer than one in one million people contract AFM each year.
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The Minnesota Department of Health recommends taking preventive measures to avoid contracting a virus that could lead to AFM. Easy ways to do this include frequent handwashing, covering your coughs and sneezes, staying home if you aren’t well, staying current on vaccinations, and taking steps to avoid mosquito bites if spending time outdoors. They stress the importance also of reporting anything that could be a symptom of AFM as soon as it is noticed so that diagnosis through examination of the nervous system, MRIs, and spinal taps can be done as early in the condition’s development as possible.