Oct 24, 2018, 4:58:07 PM CDT Dec 14, 2020, 2:24:38 PM CST

What you need to know about acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)

Acute flaccid myelitis, known as AFM for short, is a polio-like syndrome that is more common in children as compared to adults. Here is what you need to know.

Doctor giving little girl an MRI Doctor giving little girl an MRI

What is acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)?

Although AFM is a rare condition, it is a serious one. The condition affects the nervous system but preferentially impacts the spinal cord. It causes muscles and reflexes to become very weak and sometimes entire limbs to stop functioning.

What causes AFM?

While the exact cause of AFM has not been conclusively proven, Benjamin Greenberg, M.D., M.H.S., Director of the Transverse Myelitis and Neuromyelitis Optica Program, the Pediatric Demyelinating Disease Program at Children's Health℠, believes the cause could be linked to a specific subtype of a common virus known as enterovirus. "Enterovirus is in the family of viruses that includes the polio virus, it is a cousin of it," says Dr. Greenberg. Lots of children become infected with enteroviruses every year and they cause relatively mild conditions. Only a few children get this significant complication.

Watch for these AFM symptoms

Although the disease is rare, there are symptoms. Dr. Greenberg says parents should watch for, specifically, "weakness of one or more limbs." You should also seek medical care as soon as possible if your child develops the following symptoms:

  • Weakness or loss of muscle tone
  • Facial droop or weakness
  • Difficulty moving eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Slurred speech

Dr. Greenberg wants parents to know that: "There is not a need to get an evaluation for a neurological condition unless there are symptoms of weakness or swelling. This is a rare, rare event." Unless your child is showing the symptoms above, there is no need to be concerned.   

How to protect your child from AFM

There is not an exact way to prevent your child from getting AFM. However, since the condition usually follows a virus, you can teach your child the same methods you use to avoid getting sick. Practice good hand hygiene, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and avoid touching your eyes or mouth. Try to avoid close contact with sick people and keep your child home from school when they are sick. You can also clean and disinfect surfaces to avoid the spread of germs.

Cases of AFM are on the rise, but the polio-like syndrome is still rare. Teach your child good hand hygiene and other safety precautions to stay healthy via @Childrens.

Learn more

When a child faces a serious neurologic condition, parents can confidently turn to the Neurosciences Center at Children's Health where we have a dedicated program for patients with conditions such as AFM. Find out how they can help treat different conditions.   

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Neurology, neuroscience, condition, brain, spine, spinal cord, infection, limbs

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