Since the end of October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been monitoring hundreds of cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) -- a polio-like disease that mostly affects children.
AFM attacks the nervous system, causing weakness in the arms, legs, and spinal cord. The CDC has information on AFM going back to 2014, and though there are many suspected cases of the infection, many continue to be under investigation, as it’s often hard to confirm.
The CDC has reported 80 cases have now been confirmed across 25 states, and 219 cases are currently under investigation as the infection continues to spread.
CDC is investigating
The causes of AFM are still unknown, and the CDC is still unsure as to why the infection has been on the rise since 2014.
Four years ago, the CDC confirmed 120 cases across 34 states, and in 2016, there were 149 cases across 39 states. Based on trends over the last few years, the CDC has noticed that cases tend to increase around this time of year; experts don’t expect the numbers for this year to get too out of hand.
“I don’t think it’s going to get worse,” Dr. Benjamin Greenberg told the Dallas News. “I’m basing that on what we’ve seen in other years.”
The CDC is closely watching the infection’s activity across the country, and it continues to look for causes and risk factors associated with AFM.
“We are working closely with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to increase awareness for AFM,” the CDC reported. “We are encouraging healthcare providers to recognize and report to their health department patients who they suspect may have AFM, and for health departments to send this information to the CDC to help us understand the nationwide burden of AFM.”
Importance of reporting
As more cases of AFM continue to add up, CDC advisers have been publicly disappointed with the way the agency has been handling the disease.
The advisers note that the agency has been slow in delivering information about potential causes and treatments to healthcare providers, and many parents have reported that emergency room physicians have sent children home after misdiagnosing AFM.
“Physicians are on the front line, and what we’re seeing is really heartbreaking: Children are healthy one day and really profoundly disabled in some cases the next,” Dr. Keith Van Haren, one of the CDC advisers, told CNN.
The CDC is continuing to look for ways to share information about AFM with healthcare officials nationwide in an effort to properly diagnose and treat children.
Though there is no guaranteed method of preventing AFM, the CDC does suggest ways parents can help eliminate risks.
Getting the polio vaccine is of the utmost importance, as it can protect against poliovirus. Additionally, making sure your hands are clean -- and washing them often with soap and water -- is an effective way to avoid spreading germs. The CDC also suggests consumers protect themselves against mosquito bites, as West Nile virus can sometimes lead to AFM.
The CDC’s AFM investigation page is updated regularly to keep consumers aware of the latest news with the disease.