Ask Dr. Nandi: Six cases of rare 'polio-like' illness diagnosed in children in Minnesota

Posted at 5:23 PM, Oct 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-09 08:52:21-04

A rare illness that can cause paralysis has been diagnosed in six children since mid-September in Minnesota.  

Health Investigators are trying to figure out how the children contracted the potentially deadly Acute flaccid myelitis or AFM.

What makes AFM so scary is that it affects the nervous system, particularly the spinal cord. And children can suddenly become weak in their legs or arms because their muscles and reflexes are not working normally.  

They can also experience trouble swallowing, facial drooping, neck weakness, and slurred speech.  

Despite all the extensive lab testing for AFM, we still don’t know the exact cause of AFM, or why it affects mostly children. Environmental toxins, genetic disorders and viral infections like poliovirus and West Nile are all suspected possible causes. 

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for AFM, and we don’t know the long-term prognosis for those who have it. But AFM is not spread from person to person.  

However, some of the germs that may potentially lead to AFM are contagious.  

Now it does seem alarming that Minnesota has six recently diagnosed cases. But let me point out that this illness is so rare, the CDC says less than 1 in a million people will get this serious condition.

There is no vaccine for AFM. But the CDC does have a few prevention steps for you and your loved ones.  

To help avoid the West Nile virus, use bug repellent to keep mosquitoes from biting. To help avoid poliovirus be sure to get the polio vaccination. And wash hands often with soap and water as it’s a great way to avoid picking up germs.  

Don’t forget to cover your mouth when coughing, preferably with your elbow.  And if you get sick, please stay home to avoid spreading viral infections to others.