ST. GEORGE— The Southern Nevada Health District reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first case of acute flaccid myelitis in a child in Clark County, Nevada.
This confirmed case – along with others in Colorado and Arizona – has resulted in almost entirely boxing in Utah; however, at this point there are no reports of the illness in the Beehive state.
AFM is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system, resulting in polio-like symptoms. So far this year there have been 62 confirmed cases in 22 states across the U.S., according to the CDC. Colorado has the most confirmed cases to date, with 15 reports.
The Southern Nevada Health District will not be releasing identifying information related to individual cases of illness. The district is working with the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health and the CDC to investigate other suspected AFM cases.
AFM is not new, but is relatively rare, affecting less than one in a million people in the U.S. each year. According to the CDC, a total of 386 cases have been confirmed in the country since 2014, when case reports took a significant jump.
AFM is most common in children. Symptoms of the condition are most similar those in patients affected by certain viruses including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses and West Nile virus, according to the CDC. However, all AFM patients have so far tested negative for poliovirus.
While the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is not necessarily concerned that an outbreak will occur locally, they do have a response plan in place, SWUPHD public information officer David Heaton said.
AFM is considered a “reportable disease,” meaning that a doctor or lab that confirms a case is required to report it to the health department so they can begin the process of determining the cause in order to protect others. AFM is serious enough that the CDC would also be involved in the response, Heaton said.
“It’s rare enough that we’re not really concerned about it,” he said. “Although anybody that has an infant or child that has sudden weakness in the limbs or paralysis should definitely take them in to a doctor. Regardless of the cause, that’s usually a good reason to get medical care for your kid.”
AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the gray matter area of the spinal cord. The condition weakens the muscles and reflexes in certain parts of the body. Besides weakness in the limbs, other symptoms of AFM include the following:
- Facial droop and weakness.
- Difficulty moving the eyes or drooping eyelids.
- Difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.
Less common symptoms include numbness or tingling, pain in arms or legs and inability to urinate. Serious complications like respiratory failure can occur in rare instances. It is possible, though unlikely, that the process that causes AFM could trigger other serious neurologic conditions and could lead to death, according to the CDC.
The exact cause of AFM is unknown, but possible causes include a variety of viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders, according to the CDC. It can also be a complication following a viral infection.
The CDC has been investigating the cause of AFM since 2014. They have tested many patients for a wide range of germs that could potentially be the cause, but so far none have been consistent in all patients.
AFM is diagnosed by examining the patient’s nervous system, taking an MRI and testing the cerebral spinal fluid.
The long-term effects of AFM are still unknown. Some patients experience a fast recovery while others continue to have paralysis and need ongoing care.
Treatment for AFM is determined on a case-by-case basis. Patients are typically referred to see a neurologist who may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness.
While the cause of AFM is unknown, the CDC advises people to take regular disease prevention measures to avoid spreading sickness and stay healthy. It is important to wash hands frequently with warm water and soap, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick, remain current on all immunizations and use insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites.
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