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Acute flaccid myelitis causes sudden muscle weakness, especially in the arms and legs. Symptoms range from mild weakness to paralysis. This is often temporary, but in some cases has become long term.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 62 cases this year in 22 states (the agency hasn't specified which states). More than 90 other cases are being investigated. The agency reported a similar increase in the number of reported cases in 2014 and 2016.
The CDC doesn't know what causes AFM, or why the disease spiked in 2014, 2016, and now in 2018. Here's what you need to know:
- Most people who get the disease are children. Around 90 percent of the confirmed cases in 2018 are under age 18, and the average age of AFM patients is 4 years.
- AFM affects the nervous system. In addition to sudden arm or leg weakness, symptoms may include facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, difficulty with swallowing, or slurred speech.
- Health officials are exploring whether AFM is linked to a virus. One of the viruses being investigated as a possible cause is enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). The 2014 spike in AFM cases occurred during an outbreak of EV-D68, but some people with AFM didn't have the virus. The CDC says the disease is not polio.
- There's no specific treatment or vaccine for AFM. Physical therapy can help. The CDC does not know the long-term prognosis for patients with acute flaccid myelitis.
- It's still really rare. The chances of you or your child getting acute flaccid myelitis are very slim, according to the CDC – less than one in a million people. (You're more likely to get hit by a car or struck by lightning.)
While the CDC hasn't identified a cause for AFM, the agency does offer some recommendations that may help protect your children from AFM:
Seek medical attention immediately if anyone in your family experiences sudden muscle weakness or paralysis.
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