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What parents need to know about AFM—the polio-like illness affecting children

Six facts about Acute Flaccid Myelitis, mama.

What parents need to know about AFM—the polio-like illness affecting children

There have been a flurry of headlines about a polio-like illness impacting children across America—and parents have questions.

Since the headlines can be alarming, and the information overwhelming, we broke down the simple facts parents need to know about the condition known as Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).

1. It is rare

In a press briefing the director of Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, acknowledged that all the news about Acute Flaccid Myelitis is "frightening for parents" but went on to explain that "parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now."

So yes, there has been an increase, but it still impacts fewer than one in a million people each year across America.

2. Most patients are kids

The CDC first started noticing an increase of AFM cases in 2014. Last year there were 35 confirmed cases in America, and this year the CDC has reported 165 confirmed cases of AFM in 36 states.

According to the CDC, most AFM cases (more than 90%) are in children.

3. It affects the nervous system

They don't yet know exactly what cases AFM, but the CDC cites "viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders" as possible causes. It affects the nervous system, with a particular focus on the gray matter of the spinal cord, and causes muscle weakness.

4. Parents can be proactive

Dr. Nancy Messonnier says parents should not panic, but should seek medical attention for their child if they develop a sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs. Some kids also experience facial droop/weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, or difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

5. It can be difficult to diagnose

According to the CDC, AFM " shares many of the same symptoms as other neurologic diseases, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome." If your doctor suspects AFM, your child may need some extra testing and examinations.

6. Kids can recover

While AFM is a serious condition that can trigger "serious neurologic complications that could lead to death" in very rare cases, most kids who get it are able to recover.There's no specific treatment, but antiviral therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy have all be used to treat pediatric cases.

The bottom line:

Don't panic, mama. The CDC is keeping parents updated not because this is a common threat, but simply because they want us to know what to do and how to advocate for our child should they exhibit symptoms.

[Update: December 21, 2018, number of cases. Post originally published October 17, 2018]

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