ORLANDO, Florida – In recent months, curiosity about acute flaccid myelitis has increased mysterious diseases commonly known as AFM. It is a polio-like disease that causes weakness or loss of limb use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In particular, AFM refers to an area of the spinal cord called gray matter. When gray matter is affected, a patient may experience muscle weakness, partial or total paralysis, dysphagia and even respiratory failure. And although AFM mainly affects toddlers, people of all ages have been reported with the disease.
AFM is nothing new. The CDC has been following the disease since 201
New numbers on the October 23rd surveillance web site said those 127 unconfirmed reports were now up to 155. Health officials have said that the latest numbers concern them.
AFM is a mystery. Doctors are not sure what exactly it triggers and researchers have found no prevention or cure.
As part of Kirstin O & # 39; Connor's story this week about AFM, News 6 sat down with Dr. Ing. Ronald Davis, owner of the Center for Pediatric Neurology and Epilepsy in Central Florida and Deputy Medical Director of Epilepsy Surgery at the Arnold Palmer Hospital. Below is a partial, edited transcript of our interview with Dr. Ing. Davis.
For many of our viewers, AFM is something they have never heard of. Can you summarize that?
Dr. Davis: This is a disease that appears to be polio-like and affects the spinal cord and nerve connection for the extremities in a way that causes fairly deep paralysis.
What do we know about AFM? It's not new, but for many people who see this report, it will be new to them.
Dr. Davis: Luckily, there are not many cases; it is not new. It has been reported worldwide and we have dealt with it in recent years. We believe that it is a direct effect of an infection associated with a viral disease, particularly enteroviruses or an autoimmune response associated with this infection: body against body.
AFM has been described as a polio-like virus. And that's why some parents are calling for a new vaccine. Do we need to modify the polio vaccine? Do we have to add a new one, or are we not really sure?
We are not sure. I think we first have to find out what exactly the virus is. Vaccines could theoretically be very helpful, just like polio. If we could isolate whatever the virus is or the autoimmune response caused by the virus and then develop a vaccine, that would be wonderful. That could be where we need to go in relation to our next big intervention to try to eliminate or eradicate this disorder.
How do you treat AFM?
Dr. Davis: That was very difficult and very unsatisfactory, both as a caregiver and as a parent. Things have been tried like IVIg that's freezing gamma-globulin plasma where we remove the blood, trying to cleanse the immune factors, put it back and steroids. So far, there has not been a very good way to completely reverse the effects of AFM. We are still looking for a great treatment method.
One of the mothers (we interviewed them) described AFM as a poliovirus strain, believing they needed to make a new vaccine for the strain. Is that possible, or do not you know what you are dealing with? It is too early?
Dr. Davis: It's a bit early. The thinking process is that it refers to a particular enterovirus and polio is part of the class of these enteroviruses, but we are not yet sure what strain. You could not just shoot a virus at this time and hope for great effectiveness.
At what age have people reported having AFM?
Dr. Davis: You know, in other countries it's even reported into adulthood.
Who is most at risk for AFM? If there were an age target group for parents who were very conscious, what would that be?
Dr. Davis: It seems to be somewhere between 2 and 6.
What is the probability that a child will get AFM? It's not common, right?
Dr. Davis: No, it's very, very rare, less than one in a million, I think.
Some people say that this is just one of the side effects of the whole non-vaccine movement for children who do not want to vaccinate. Right or wrong?
Dr. Davis: I think that's wrong. It is still very important to vaccinate your children for other reasons. Remember, vaccines are designed to prevent people from getting these serious illnesses that cause death. But in this particular disorder, AFM, children both vaccinated and unvaccinated have shown that this happens to them.
Are there genetic connections?
Dr. Davis: There are no genetic links now. There is a thought process that for those who might have an autoimmune response, from a genetic point of view, they are more prone to this occurrence, but not a unique genetic link.
This is a scary thing for the parents. What should they look for in their children's behavior, or what's up with their children to see if it's possible that the child has AFM?
Dr. Davis: Sometimes there are not many warning signs. The typical presentation might just be a cold and then you think that you are well again. In the case of a patient we had not long ago, they woke up and they were paralyzed. There was not much warning and that is the really scary part. We still need to vaccinate our children well, take care of all our usual health needs, and even understand simple things like washing hands to avoid colds and flu.
Is it contagious?
Dr. Davis: Not as far as we can accurately say. Again, you get a cold. This part could be contagious and this is where proper hand washing is important. But then it seems to be after you have recovered from this acute phase of a cold or flu when the symptoms start to come out. The idea is that it is an autoimmune reaction that is related to this initial disease. There is still much to discover.
How frustrating is that for you?
Dr. Davis: Very much. Because you do not like to see that you can not fix the paralysis of the little girl or little boy. One day they were normal and the next day they could not walk. We do not want that to happen first, but if you can not fix it, it just makes it a lot harder. Awareness and knowledge are very important as we try to develop not only recognition but also treatments and vaccinations.
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