Children around the country are coming down with a strange illness that has polio-like symptoms. Acute Flaccid Myelitis starts like the flu or cold, but then the symptoms become much more severe. According to the CDC, Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare condition. It affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord. AFM or neurologic conditions like it have a variety of causes such as viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders. The CDC says there are 38 confirmed cases across 16 states. News reports from around the country are sharing stories of young children ill with the disease. All of these stories are starting to draw questions on if polio is beginning to make a come back to the United States.
Currently, there are cases of AFM in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Six children in Minnesota are being treated for the disease. Today a report out of Pittsburgh said there are three children diagnosed with the disease. A report of Chicago noted there are two children diagnosed with AFM in a local hospital.
Colorado has reported 14 cases this year of AFM. The cases in Colorado were linked to an outbreak of enterovirus A71. Enterovirus A71 belongs to the same virus family as polio. The other two cases were related to enterovirus D68 which is also in the polio family.
According to reports on immunizations rates in Colorado, some parts of the state have vaccination rates of less than 50% of school-aged children having all the required vaccines. According to a report on PBS, for herd immunity to protect children from polio 80-85% of the population must be vaccinated against the disease.
While there hasn’t been a significant decline in vaccination rates in the U.S., the CDC reports on immunizations for 2016 showed small decreases in vaccination rates across all populations. Between 2015-2016 the overall reduction to those that received the polio vaccine fell from 93.7% to 91.9%.
Anti-vaccination propaganda has fueled communities distrust in the value of children getting their vaccinations. Movies like “Vaxxed” directed by the notorious anti-vaccine former doctor Andrew Wakefield, has fueled conspiracy theories about government cover-ups related to vaccines.
Earlier this year a study published by PLOS Medicine showed an increase in vaccine exemption requests by parents to schools for their children.
As vaccine rates decline and more parents opt for exemptions, diseases like polio can return to our country. The CDC reported that the last time there were cases of polio originating in the United States was 1979.
With the new onset of AFM spreading across the country, concern about polio coming back to the United States is a real concern. AFM causes neurological issues and can affect the spinal cord.Patients start with a respiratory illness. Then patients can develop muscle weakness in their arms or legs. Some can develop issues with their overall muscle tone and reflexes. Other symptoms can include facial drooping, difficulty moving their eyes, difficulty swallowing, and slurred speech. In severe cases, AFM can lead to respiratory failure and death.
Because AFM can be linked to polio, the CDC recommends vaccinating your child for polio. The vaccination is effective and will prevent the disease.
West Nile is another disease that can cause AFM. West Nile is a mosquito-borne illness. Make sure to use mosquito repellant when outside and avoid being outside at dawn and dusk.
Also, hand washing is critical to help prevent the spread of the virus to infants that are not old enough to receive the vaccine.
The United States has not had polio in almost 40 years. However, the alarming trend of AFM cases since 2014 should concern all parents that polio could make a comeback.
Please get your children vaccinated.
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