The Dangerous Effects of AFM


(Photo Source: Kera News)


It’s a rare disease that’s been spreading across multiple states, impacting over 60 people within the month. Patients, primarily children, are hospitalized with muscle weakness and even paralysis from this strange condition that replicates polio-like symptoms.

It’s called acute flaccid myelitis, and it’s impacting dozens of families across America.

Acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, is a serious neurological condition that damages the nervous system and causes inflammation in the spinal cord. AFM can also cause muscle weakness, where patients experience difficulty in moving their face, swallowing, or speaking. As stated by the Rhode Island Department of health, AFM is one of many conditions that could lead to neurological illnesses, such as stroke.

Although it is considered to be extremely rare, the number of AFM cases has already grown at a rapid rate this year. In the first half of 2018, there were less than ten cases each month. Despite this, there was a significant increase in the number of cases in September, with the CDC confirming that 38 people have been diagnosed with AFM. Since then, a total of 155 potential cases are being investigated.

With AFM’s symptoms and the significant increase of cases, it stands to question why the public isn’t more concerned about this disease.

Lydia Gugliuzza, a sophomore at Pentucket High School, believes that AFM should be more widely discussed. “People don’t think it’s contagious and it’s only impacting a certain part of the population,” she commented.

Since being declared a “public health issue” by the CDC in 2014, less than 400 people have been diagnosed with this disease. This modest number hardly presents enough information for organizations like the CDC to study and understand.

As a result, much of the disease is still unknown. The CDC believes that certain factors contribute to AFM, such as various viruses and germs. One critical transmitter of the disease could be the West Nile virus, in which the virus is transmitted through mosquitoes and causes a variety of damage to the host’s body.

Adenoviruses, or groups of nonenveloped viruses, are also being reviewed as a factor for AFM as well as the poliovirus. However, according to the CDC, when testing patients with AFM for polio, all results returned negative.

“This could only be the beginning […] and people should get vaccinations to prevent [the spread of] diseases [and viruses],” Gugliuzza added. “They should just be aware of the circumstances, and especially since it’s local.”

In fact, AFM has already impacted the community around Pentucket. In Amesbury, Massachusetts, one family’s son was diagnosed with the neurological condition at six months of age. This isn’t uncommon for those with AFM. According to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, over 90 percent of AFM cases are 18 years old or younger.

However, Gugliuzza believes that there is hope for this mysterious condition that is sweeping over the nation. “I feel like this has greater hope than polio,” she stated. “What physical therapy has done for kids has brought hope for treatments or even a cure.”

True to Gugliuzza’s beliefs, physical therapy has played a significant role in overcoming AFM. Multiple organizations have aided victims of the disease to overcome the challenges they face through physical therapy. Many more people have also banded together to shed light on AFM and help others understand what it truly is, such as the Transverse Myelitis Association. With these groups supporting the CDC and multiple families impacted by AFM, the idea of finally ending the devastating disease might be a possible outcome within the near future.