Mysterious Illness Has Stricken 103 Kids Since August. What Is Acute Flaccid Myelitis?

A mysterious illness, characterized by a sudden polio-like paralysis of an arm or a leg, has shown up in about three new kids a week since August, according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease, called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM), is still a mystery to the medical community. Some believe it might be linked to last year’s nationwide outbreak of enterovirus 68, but doctors can’t say for sure. Last week, a report from the CDC said there was no enterovirus found in the spinal fluid of 71 AFM patients.

According to the CDC, about two-thirds of the 103 children in 34 states who’ve been diagnosed with AFM have reported improvements, but only one has completely recovered. The median age of kids with the condition is 7 years old, and most are presented with a fever or respiratory symptoms before the onset of the paralysis.

While the unusual amount of cases of AFM is cause for concern, “the message to parents is not to panic,” Dominika Wittek, MD, a pediatrician with Tribeca Pediatrics, tells Yahoo Parenting. “The numbers are still very low, and we don’t know yet exactly what we are dealing with.”

Still, Wittek says that parents should make sure their kids are up-to-date on their polio vaccines — and all vaccines — and if a child shows any unusual symptoms, seek medical attention. “There’s going to be more research and we will hopefully be able to answer many more questions,” Wittek says. “For now, pay attention to symptoms surrounding a cold. A runny nose or a cough shouldn’t be alarming, but if there are signs of joint distress or prolonged illness, reach out to your pediatrician and discuss your concerns.”

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