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  • Anannya Das

AFM: New, Rare Polio-Like Disease

Photo credit: CNN/CDC

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare disease that has recently been afflicting the South. This polio-like disease is wreaking havoc in Georgia, as this disease currently has no cure; we don’t even know what the virus looks like!

AFM is a rare disease that affects the spinal cord and parts of the nervous system. Symptoms of this disease are weakness in the arms or legs, with loss of muscle tone and decreased or absent reflexes. Those afflicted by this rare disease also can experience facial weakness, drooping eyelids, and difficulty speaking, swallowing or moving the eyes. Most cases of this disease are found in children, but some are found in adults.

What causes this disease to be so alarming? Mistaken for several other diseases: Guillain-Barre, a syndrome where the body attacks its own nervous system; acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, a sudden inflammation in the brain; or transverse myelitis, an inflammation of spinal cord. The fact that this disease can be easily mistaken for others causes the disease to advance considerably before its is diagnosed. Since this disease affects nerves in the spinal cord and nervous system, it can cause death if it advances too much, since a person’s weakened respiratory muscles make it difficult for them to breathe on their own.

AFM has gotten headlines recently because of the high numbers seen in the US. In 2016, there were 22 new confirmed cases in 17 states, but 2017 brought 116 confirmed cases in 31 states and Georgia and Alabama have the second highest rates in the South. This disease is spreading and there is no cure, vaccine or even known cause. The disease is thought to be caused by the same virus that causes polio, the enterovirus. Though this seems to be the most viable cause, there are some inconsistencies. The biggest problem is that nearly all children who got the disease also got viral illnesses such as a fever and cough three to ten days before the onset of AFM. This opens up the possibility of a infectious pathogen. This is even more terrifying, as the disease could spread and mutate quickly, rendering any medication and vaccines helpless.

AFM is a terrible disease afflicting children everywhere. The South has the highest cases, as of 2017, of this disease. We can only hope that scientists will quickly discover the nature of this pathogen and create medication and vaccines to prevent this from becoming more widespread than it already is. For now, the only way that is thought to prevent getting this disease is being up-to-date on your polio vaccines.