What you need to know about mysterious polio-like illness

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Recent cases of a polio-like illness, called Acute Flaccid Myelitis or AFM, have been reported in 24 states across the United States. The CDC reports 72 confirmed cases, while 191 total cases could turn up to be positive. 
The Utah Health Department has seen six cases since 2014 including to last year. So far, no cases this year.

Symptoms of Acute Flaccid Myelitis include: 

  • Limb weakness 
  • Difficulty swallowing and speaking 
  • Facial drooping
  • Paralysis

Akansksha Acharya, is an epidemiologist at the Utah Health Department. She says while the symptoms are concerning she stresses AFM is a very rare illness that affects less than 1 percent in a million. 

“It mostly affects children under 18 years of age.”

“I think it’s also very reassuring that many of these children do better very quickly after they get very weak very quick but then they get better very quick; the majority of them go that way,” said Dr. Frank Esper with Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

Scientists know very little about AFM and so the Utah Health Department says it’s good to cover your bases and protect yourself and your children

‘It’s good to practice for prevention strategies, get up to date on vaccinations, washing your hands, getting mosquito repellent to prevent mosquito bites.’

Dr. Esper is a pediatric infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. He says that AFM tends to be more prevalent during the fall. 

The CDC has been tracking cases since 2014. AFM typically starts as a common cold. 
Dr. Esper says AFM can happen to any healthy child, but experts do not yet know why some children develop it and others do not. There is no specific treatment for AFM,  and there are no antibiotics to shorten the duration of the illness.  
Both AFM and polio are triggered by viral infections. Acute Flaccid Myelitis is not polio but takes on polio-like symptoms that affect the spinal cord.

While many children recover quickly others have prolonged symptoms.

“We don’t know anything about long-term care, I know our patients have not recovered and still in ongoing care,” said Acharya. 
We may be seeing more cases because the CDC and state health departments are educating providers and there is more testing, buthe says U.S. children are vaccinated against poliovirus and there are only a few pockets of populations worldwide that still experience polio, none of which are in the U.S.

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