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Health Alert: Experts warn of rare condition affecting children

Acute Flaccid Myelitis is a neurological condition
Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 4:38 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A rare condition affecting children, which usually surfaces every two years, is starting to be diagnosed in the United States.

Although Acute Flaccid Myelitis, AFM, is still very uncommon, health experts want parents to be aware of it because it can have lasting effects and shares some of the same symptoms of COVID-19.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis is a neurological condition that primarily affects children.

“The average age turns out to be about 5 years old,” said Dr. Christopher Painter, an emergency medicine physician at BayCare Clinic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of July 31, there have been 16 confirmed cases in the U.S. so far with 38 pending as we head into peak season.

The CDC has been tracking AFM since 2014 and says we usually see an increase in cases every two years.

“It is one of the unique features of the illness and this year would be that year,” said Dr. Painter. “There are about 200 cases every couple of years.”

Dr. Painter says the virus usually causes common cold-like symptoms about 4-5 days before muscle weakness will start.

“Overall, this illness is very similar to polio,” said Dr. Painter. “Although, we don’t see polio in this country anymore because of the very effective vaccination against it.”

The virus that causes AFM doesn’t have a vaccine, so Dr. Painter said it’s important for parents to be aware of the symptoms, which include a cough, runny nose and sudden onset of arm or leg weakness.

Dr. Painter says AFM does share some symptoms associated with the coronavirus.

“The symptoms overlap a lot. There’s not much of a difference between the symptoms of the virus that causes acute flaccid myelitis and coronavirus, but we wouldn’t necessarily worry about AFM unless that child usually would develop muscular weakness.”

Dr. Painter says that muscle weakness can severe and permanent.

“Although we do have some treatments for it, none of those are very effective,” said Dr. Painter.

Dr. Painter said the best way to prevent your child from getting the rare condition is to keep doing what we are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We shouldn’t worry about this illness too much, but we should do our best to be smart, be safe, and be respectful of other people. We can do that by wearing a mask, washing our hands, and if we have children, teaching them to do the same thing,” said Dr. Painter.

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