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Published on October 18, 2018

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6 Things to Know About Polio-Like Syndrome

A polio-like syndrome called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is making headlines as more cases have been diagnosed in the past few years.

It’s been reported in 22 states this year alone, but the good news is it is still very rare: one in 1 million people are diagnosed every year in the United States.

“The good news is, very rarely is this going to be the diagnosis. So, it's not something that parents need to be overly concerned about every time their child gets a cold," said David Basel, MD, with Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine.

Here’s what you need to know about this illness

  1. More than 60 cases are confirmed so far this year, mostly with children. Cases are confirmed in the Midwest, including Iowa and Minnesota.
  2. The early symptoms are pretty common and it doesn’t always go to the spinal cord. You might notice a fever, mild headache, vomiting, diarrhea or mild rash, Basel said. “Then it goes away and you never have any problems with it whatsoever. But in that 1 in a million case, the virus actually invades the spinal cord.”
  3. Once it affects a person’s spinal cord it can cause weakness to limbs and even paralysis. Other symptoms include:
    • Facial droop or weakness
    • Droopy eyelids
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Difficulty moving eyes
    • Difficulty talking
  4. There is no treatment for AFM but your doctor will treat the symptoms. That’s why you should see a doctor if you notice any of these issues.
  5. Doctors don’t know what causes AFM in most cases. They do know West Nile virus and distant relatives of poliovirus can cause it.
  6. Prevention is still important.
    • Stay up-to-date on vaccinations
    • Protect against mosquito bites, which can carry West Nile
    • Practice general germ prevention with hand washing

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