Scary childhood illness in NJ — what we know and don’t
I really don’t mean to scare you, but I was very frightened when I read about this disease, and I feel it’s important to bring awareness to this scary condition that has only recently made itself known. It is called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), and affects the brain and spinal cord, causing the muscles and reflexes to weaken. Besides a sudden onset of paralysis or weakness in the limbs, some patients experience drooping of their face or eyelids, difficulty swallowing or moving the eyes, and slurred speech. Anyone can get the disease but 90% of the reported cases have been in children 18 years old and younger, with the average age being 4 years old.
This year, cases have been confirmed in 22 states and New Jersey is reporting three. The locations in New Jersey are not being reported for privacy concerns. In New Jersey, two cases were reported in August and one in February, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Over the last two years, seven other cases were confirmed — six in 2016 and one in 2017. The state did not provide additional details. The disease was first identified in 2014, but the scary part is that cases seem to be increasing.
The good news is that the disease is still very rare, so there’s no need to panic. There is basically a 1 in 1 million chance that your child will fall victim to this disease. The other good news is that only one of the 386 cases so far has resulted in death.
The bad news is, although many patients recover completely from the illness, some remain paralyzed and require long-term care. You may ask, what good am I doing by telling you about this illness if, as of yet, we do not know how it is contracted, or if it even has a cure. So far, from stool samples collected from patients, they have ruled out both west Nile virus and polio virus as causes of AFM.
The main reason I think it’s important to know about it is that even though it is extremely rare, those who present with similar symptoms should immediately see a doctor. That way, they can have their cases reported to the CDC so that they can get to the bottom of what this is and how to stop it.
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