Mystery Illness Seen in Washington State – AFM (Acute Flaccid Myelitis)


Very recently, a handful of patients (8 children) in Washington State have recently been diagnosed with AFM (Acute Flaccid Myelitis) which is a rare condition that affects the central nervous system (spinal cord) and cause weakness in arms/legs, and possibly facial droop/weakness, difficulty with moving they eyes, drooping eyelids and/or difficulty with speech or swallowing. As of September, 2016 – 89 people in 33 states were confirmed to have the rare illness according to the CDC website.

Diagnosis:  If you think you or a family member has this condition, you should seek consultation with a medical provider.  But how do you know if it’s AFM that is causing the symptoms?  A doctor may be able to diagnose AFM by doing a careful examination and sometimes an MRI may also be helpful in assisting in the diagnosis.  An examination of the spinal fluid (which surrounds the brain) may be collected by a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) procedure and may aid in the diagnosis.

There are also nerve tests that can be done which may also aid in the diagnosis however they have to be done at 7-10 days after the onset of the illness.

Causes:  There are a number of viruses which have been though to possibly be the causal agents in the disease including enteroviruses (including polio), West Nile Virus, Japanese Encephalitis, Saint Luis Encephalitis, and various adenoviruses.

AFM is not the only cause of weakness in arms or legs:  Other causes can include viral infections, environmental toxins, genetic disorders, or GBS (Guillain-Barre syndrome).  There are neurological disorders such as stroke (cerebral vascular accident) that can also cause weakness in an arm or leg or facial drooping so it’s important to seem medical attention immediately (call 911) if you or someone you know has these symptoms.

Treatment:  No specific treatment exists for AFM, however a neurologist (nerve specialist) may be consulted to help make recommendations and help with the diagnosis.

If you or your child is having problems walking or standing, or develop sudden weakness in an arm or leg, you should contact a medical provider right away.

This document is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual patient.  If you have questions please contact your medical provider.

I hope that you have found this information useful.  Wishing you the best of health,

Scott Rennie, DO


*This information comes from the CDC website About Acute Flaccid Myelitis


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