LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Officials with Norton Children’s Hospital confirmed they have treated three children with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) over the past month.
The patients were between the ages of three and eight, Maggie Roetker, spokeswoman for Norton Children’s, said.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed one case was reported to them and confirmed in the state of Kentucky.
AFM is a disease that affects the spinal cord. Patients are usually children. The disease causes polio-like symptoms such as limb weakness, paralysis and loss of muscle tone.
While this sounds alarming, and recent national stories have highlighted a spike of AFM cases, Roetker pointed to CDC data.
That data shows a trend over the last several years of a spike in AFM cases during this time of year (late summer to early fall). The number of cases reported by the CDC this month are similar to this time of year in 2014 and 2016.
AFM is rare, affecting less than one in a million people, Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said. However, it is a serious disease and those with symptoms similar to AFM should seek immediate medical attention.
The average patient is four-years-old and 90 percent of confirmed cases are below the age of 18.
Patients react to the disease differently. One child with the disease died in 2017, but that is not a common outcome. Some patients recover quickly and others have continued paralysis and need ongoing medical treatment.
It’s important to note that while the symptoms of AFM are similar to polio, poliovirus is not the cause of any of the AFM cases confirmed by the CDC.
“AFM can be caused by other viruses, such as enterovirus and west nile virus, environmental toxins and a condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys body tissue that it mistakes for foreign material,” Messonnier said. “While we know that these can cause AFM, we have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases.”
That means doctors have not been able to find a unifying cause of the disease.
There is also no geographical pattern associated with AFM. So far, cases have been confirmed in 22 states in 2018.
What makes the disease so scary for parents is that medical professionals “don’t fully understand the long-term consequences of AFM,” Messonnier said.
Medical professionals encourage parents be diligent about handwashing, use insect repellent and stay up-to-date on their children’s vaccinations.