The CDC has announced that 127 patients are under investigation related to an increase of acute flaccid myelitis cases, or AFM, in 22 states. Of these patients, 62 cases have been confirmed.
The number of cases reported today by the CDC is “a substantially larger number than in previous months this year,” with increased reports for suspected AFM cases in August and September. This increase has not been traced to a single cause, but poliovirus has been ruled out.
“We know this can be frightening for parents, and I know many parents want to know the signs and symptoms they should be looking for in their child,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said in a press conference. “We encourage parents to seek medical care right away if you or your child develops weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs.”
According to Messonnier, the CDC has been actively investigating AFM, testing specimens and monitoring the disease since 2014, when a spike in cases was first observed. She said that the number of AFM cases occurring this fall are comparable to the number observed in past increases.
Investigations are still ongoing. More than 90% of all cases occurred in children aged 18 years and younger, with an average reported age of 4 years in confirmed cases.
Although several infections and conditions have been linked to the development of AFM, including enterovirus and West Nile virus, the CDC has not been able to identify a unifying cause of these cases. Some of the cases have been linked to enteroviruses and rhinovirus, but no specific pathogen or immune response has been identified as the source of the disease in most of these patients.
Messonnier claimed that there is still a lot to learn about AFM and expressed her frustration with the fact that the reason behind the uptick in cases has not been identified. Furthermore, she stated that the CDC is not aware of who may be at higher risk of developing AFM, why certain populations may be at higher risk or what the long-term outcomes look like for children with AFM.
The CDC has compiled a toolkit for health care providers regarding AFM, which includes reporting instructions.
“As a parent myself, I understand what it is like to be scared for your child,” Messonnier said. “Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now. We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs. As we work to better understand AFM, parents can help to better protect their children from serious diseases by following prevention strategies like washing your hands, staying up to date on recommended immunizations and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites.” – by Katherine Bortz