Acute flaccid myelitis

Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare neurological disorder that affects the gray matter in the spinal cord, causing inflammation and weakness in the limbs. It is believed to be caused by a virus, but underlying viruses that may contribute to AFM remain largely unknown. Symptoms may include weak or paralyzed muscles, including those that control movement and balance; difficulty with breathing; and facial weakness.

What Causes Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)?

It is unclear what exactly causes AFM. Researchers believe a virus, such as enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) or West Nile Virus, is likely a cause. Other viruses, such as herpes simplex virus and poliovirus, may potentially cause AFM as well. However, the research is not yet conclusive.

Types of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

There are two types of AFM:

  • Infectious myelitis: This is caused by an infection with germs like viruses, bacteria, or parasites, and is the most common type of AFM.
  • Non-inflammatory myelitis: This is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, where the body’s own immune system attacks the nerves.

Risks of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

AFM is still a rare disorder, but it is becoming more common in recent years. It is most commonly seen in children, and it is believed that the risk of developing AFM increases if the person is immunocompromised or has abnormalities of the heart or blood vessels.

Diagnosing Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

Diagnosing AFM requires a combination of clinical and laboratory tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spinal cord, lumbar puncture (spinal tap), and tests to rule out other possible causes.

Treating Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

The main treatment for AFM is supportive care, which includes physical and occupational therapy to help the patient maintain muscle strength and improve their coordination. Other treatments are aimed at alleviating symptoms; for example, speech therapy may be recommended to improve difficulty with speaking. Antiviral drugs may also be prescribed if a virus is suspected to be the cause of AFM.

Why is Preventive Care for Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) Important?

Currently, there is no known way to prevent AFM. However, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of infection with viruses that may cause AFM, such as avoiding mosquitoes by using insect repellent, disposing of standing water, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors. Vaccines can also help protect against certain viruses that can cause AFM, such as polio and measles.

When to See a Doctor for Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)?

If you experience any sudden weakness or paralysis of your arms or legs, it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. It is also important to seek medical advice if you experience symptoms such as difficulty with speech, facial weakness, or trouble breathing. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the chances of a successful outcome.