CDC: Children at Higher Risk of Deadly, Paralyzing Disease This Year

CDC: Children at Higher Risk of Deadly, Paralyzing Disease This Year


In the midst of coronavirus headlines it has been easy to forget that there are still other illnesses and diseases we need to be cautious about. However, on Tuesday the CDC announced some scary news.

A disease reminiscent of polio called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) surges every two years from around August to November. This year is one of the flare-up years.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is acute flaccid myelitis?

AFM is not common, but it is life-threatening. It is a neurological disease that affects children in particular, and very rarely adults. It is similar to polio in that it has the potential to paralyze otherwise healthy children.

According to the National Institute of Health, the disease causes paralysis because it affects the spinal cord and the part of the nervous system that sends messages between the brain and the body.

The symptoms of the disease include:

  • Sudden, acute weakness in the arms or legs
  • A decrease in muscle tone
  • Decreased absent reflexes

More serious and less common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Facial weakness
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking or moving eyes
  • Respiratory failure

Is there a treatment for AFM?

Part of the reason this warning is so serious is that there is no specific treatment for AFM. The only thing specialists can recommend is that parents ensure their kids are up-to-date on their polio vaccines. They also recommend that you limit your family’s exposure to mosquitoes.

Methods doctors have used to treat the disease include immunoglobin, corticosteroids, plasma exchanges, and antiviral therapy. However, there is not yet clear evidence that any of these treatments work.

According to the CDC, 2018 was the last time AFM cases spiked. Then, “among 238 patients with confirmed AFM during 2018, most (92%) had prodromal fever, respiratory illness, or both. In addition to weakness, common symptoms were gait difficulty (52%), neck or back pain (47%), fever (35%), and limb pain (34%). Among 211 who were outpatients when weakness began, 64% sought treatment at an emergency department. Overall, 23% required endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation.”

While the peak cases tend to happen between August and November, 37% of the cases recorded in 2018 occurred in September.

Parents, be sure to keep an even closer eye on your children than usual so that you can catch any symptoms of AFM early. The symptoms are similar to other diseases, and the CDC encourages medical professionals to keep AFM top of mind when diagnosing children in late summer and early fall.