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Acute flaccid myelitis: Rare, serious, children-attacking condition

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C. A. V. Nogueira, M.D. |
Acute flaccid myelitis
Kids   A rare but serious condition affects the nervous system

A worrying condition is spreading across the U.S. and it targets children: acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). It may look similar to polio and it is a serious condition so no wonder that alarm is on around the country.

When a parent see their kid feel weak in their arms or legs for apparently no reason, that's a reason to be scared. Unfortunately, that scare in some cases is justified.

A rare but serious condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) affects the nervous system, the area of spinal cord called gray matter. That causes the muscles and reflexes to become weak and the patient may experience facial weakness, problems with moving their eyes, eyelids drooping may be present too, as well as difficulty with swallowing and slurred speech.

Bad news is, thing may got worse. There may be pain in arms or legs, a problem with pee, and the condition may progress to respiratory failure and other serious condition that may lead to death.

First bad news, there is a number of possible causes of AFM, from usual virus suspects to environment and we can't pick just one cause and eliminate it.

Since children are the group that's most affected, if the child experience some of symptoms, a doctor's help is needed right away.

A diagnosis is by examining a patient’s nervous system. Attention will be paid to the spinal cord and parts of the body where weakness occurs. The doctor will examine muscle tone, reflexes and MRI may help greatly to give a clearer picture on the patient's brain.

Now comes the second bad news, a difficult to diagnose it.

AFM shows many of the same symptoms as other neurological diseases. It may look like polio, Guillain-Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis, a condition caused by West Nile virus, some other viruses from the West Nile family, and adenoviruses.

Even when the AFM is confirmed, in some patients we can't say what's the cause of their condition.

And now the third bad news. There is no specific treatment for acute flaccid myelitis.

The doctor will recommend a treatment specific to a particular patient. Physical or occupational therapy may help with arm or leg weakness, we can try to treat symptoms and that's it.

What the outcome will be? Unfortunately, in the long term we don't know.

So, what can we do?

We can at least get vaccine and protect your children and yourself against poliovirus, that will protect agains viral cause of the acute flaccid myelitis.

Since mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus, mosquito repellent and other anti-mosquito measures are necessary if you live in the area where there are mosquitoes.

And one of the basic measures we learn in the early childhood still may help: wash your hands with soap and water. This is the best way to prevent any bad thing going into your organism and you will protect people around you as well.


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