Polio has been one of the most frightening diseases in American history and was especially common in the early 1900s. Many affected children suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and many others died. Permanent disability was a common result.
Polio was eventually eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994, but is still a problem in some developing countries.
Because of its scary reputation, parents across Arizona and the rest of the U.S. have been terrified to learn that a polio-like virus has affected hundreds of children since an outbreak in 2014. The illness, which at this point is still rare, causes partial paralysis and is known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).
By Oct. 31, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported 72 confirmed cases of the virus in 24 states so far in 2018. The CDC said it was investigating another 119 cases in connection with AFM.
Part of what makes AFM so concerning is that experts still don't know much about it after four years of careful study. For example, at this point, experts still aren't sure what causes AFM. Here is what they do know:
Who is affected by AFM?
At this point, experts haven't determined risk factors for AFM, but they do know that it is most common in children. The CDC has reported that 90 percent of the confirmed cases have involved children under the age of 18. Certain states have experienced "clusters" of diagnoses, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Colorado, according to an article by TIME.
What are the symptoms of AFM?
Symptoms of AFM include:
- Sudden arm and leg weakness
- Loss of muscle tone
- Facial weakness or drooping
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
AFM can lead to paralysis in severe cases and, in even rarer cases, respiratory failure or death.
What can parents do?
Experts say that traditional disease-fighting steps like frequent hand-washing, using insect repellent to avoid bites and staying current with vaccines can all help keep children healthy.
Ultimately, while parents shouldn't worry that their children are in danger because of AFM, they are wise to remain educated on developments as they are released by experts.