What is acute flaccid myelitis? Rare Minnesota cases raise questions

Lynette PayneOct 11, 2018

By the end of 2014, 120 people had been diagnosed in 34 states.

Parents who see AFM symptoms in their children, such as not using an arm, should contact health providers as soon as possible so that diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cerebral spinal fluid testing can be done as soon as possible. These cases coincided with a severe respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68.

Seven-year-old Quinton Hill from Lakeville is one of those six confirmed cases. Polio is the most significant disease caused by an enterovirus.

Normally when the people get affected with this disease, more than half of them don't recognize these symptoms as polio doesn't have any visible symptoms. It seems to wax and wane from one year to the next, the CDC says. Its origins are a mystery, but officials say a virus can cause some cases. But in very rare cases, they can damage the nerves.

Although acute flaccid myelitis is terrifying, Adalja says parents should not stay awake at night worrying about it.

EV-A71 is a common cause of hand, foot and mouth disease, an uncomfortable and highly contagious childhood illness marked by blisters or spots on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, in the mouth and elsewhere. The recent cases in Minnesota-which were reported from the Twin cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota-involved children under 10 years of age, all of whom were hospitalized.

None of those cases are in Olmsted County, but it's still a concern across the state. Symptoms can include sudden arm and leg weakness, drooping eyelids, facial weakness, difficulty moving the eyes and slurred speech/difficulty swallowing. AFM can cause paralysis that can prove deadly if the patient loses the ability to breathe on their own.

Quinton Hill is one of six cases of AFM in Minnesota reported since September 20.

"It starts off with a cold, cough, runny nose, congestion and then before you know it, you have weakness and paralysis of your arms and your legs", Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, a family physician, told ABC News. It affects a person's nervous system, specifically the spinal cord.

But there's not much else that parents can do to protect their children.

The CDC recommends getting children vaccinated against the poliovirus, as well as protecting against bites from mosquitos (which carry the West Nile virus).

Nearly any viral infection can cause neurological symptoms, although it's extremely unusual, so the CDC says it is also important to be fully up to date on vaccinations.

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