The number of cases of a polio-like illness called Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or AFM, continues to rise in the US, but doctors say the disease is still a big mystery.
This season, there have already been about 60 cases in the US, including a suspected case of AFM here in Western New York.
The disease strikes mostly young children.
“Children usually will get a cold and it seems like it’s a regular cold, and then parents will notice that they’ll drop some things or they’ll seem like they’re not moving things as well,” said Dr. Joseph Chow, president of WNY Immediate Care.
Dr. Chow says the symptoms can come on over the course of a short period, just a couple days. “Weakness in the arms, the legs, it can be the face. They can get facial droops, eye lid droops, and even at some times difficulty swallowing and speaking,” he described.
For parents who see those symptoms develop, it can be terrifying.
AFM is rarely deadly, but in some cases it can cause permanent paralyses.
And, what’s really scary, is how much we don’t know about it.
Dr. Chow says doctors don’t know for certain how to treat it, because they’re not certain about AFM’s cause.
“It’s very much a mystery at this point,” Dr. Chow said. “Although it does have some commonalities to a lot of infections that we see that would cause neurologic symptoms, such as polio and West Nile Virus. There are some enteroviruses that can cause similar symptoms. So there’s a presumption that it may be a virus that’s causing this.”
Because of that presumption, Dr. Chow says people are advised to take many of the same precautions they would to help prevent the spread of other viruses. That includes frequent hand washing and staying home if you’re sick.
Although AFM is still very rare, striking only about one in a million people, the number of cases has been increasing recently.
“This is actually not new. This has been around for years, but it seems as if there’s a bump since 2014,” Dr. Chow said.
No one knows what’s behind the recent bump or how long this spike will last.
Dr. Chow advises everyone to be vigilant.
“If your child displays any weakness of their extremities, certainly of their face, make sure you call your doctor right away,” he said.
Dr. Chow joined Weekend Wake Up on Sunday, October 28, to talk about what we know about AFM right now. Watch the video below to see the full interview.