Rare, polio-like illness detected in Pittsburgh area

Desiree Burns
October 13, 2018

In Washington, all of the patients suspected of having AFM are under age 6 and all had symptoms of a respiratory illness in the week before developing symptoms of AFM, the Department of Health reported on Wednesday.

Possible causes of AFM include viruses, environmental toxins and genetic disorders. The CDC has been monitoring the condition more closely since 2014, when there was a nationwide spike in cases. Numbness or tingling is rare in people with AFM, although some people have pain in their arms or legs. "That enterovirus is transmittable from person to person, but you can't actually catch AFM from somebody else". This can require urgent ventilator support (breathing machine).

Health officials are warning parents to be on the lookout for symptoms. "In addition to investigating the outbreak, the state health department has issued alerts to health care providers on how to test for the viruses and enhanced guidance to child care centers on infection prevention", the department said in a statement. The condition affects the gray matter area of the spinal cord and causes weakness in the body's muscles and reflexes. Officials said AFM has the similar limb weakness symptom as Polio.

In the Red River Valley, doctors have been looking out for the signs and symptoms since the disease first appeared in 2014. "The patients are now undergoing diagnostic procedures and treatment", the hospital said in a statement to Pittsburgh's Channel 11.

Indeed, there has been an uptick in cases of AFM across the country. It is believed that AFM can be contagious, and for this reason, isolation protocols are in place for patients who are confirmed to have the neurological illness.

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Acute flaccid myelitis is thought to happen after someone contracts a virus, like a poliovirus, West Nile virus, or adenovirus, the CDC says. As limbs become weak, a patient might lose the ability to use their arms or legs. There are many unknown factors at this time.

However, a person can catch a virus from someone that leads to AFM.

While there are no specific recommendations for avoiding AFM, you can help protect yourself from some of its known causes by: washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with sick people, and cleaning surfaces with a disinfectant, especially those that a sick person has touched.

For patient resources, visit the Transverse Myelitis Association Resources.

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