My grandfather grew up without the use of his legs, having contracted polio at age 5. For decades, Americans believed they had defeated this debilitating disease, but in 2014 a mysterious new disease called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) emerged. Similar to polio, the disease affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, and can cause paralysis. On Tuesday afternoon, a Pittsburgh children’s hospital announced that it was treating three children with the disease.
“UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is taking care of three children with suspected Acute Flaccid Myelitis,” the children’s hospital reported, according to KDKA News. “The patients are currently undergoing diagnostic procedures and treatments. Isolation protocols and infection control procedures are in place and we are working with the CDC and the Allegheny County Health Department to further monitor and evaluate the patient conditions.”
As of October 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported 38 cases of the disease in 16 states this year. Including these three, reported after October 5, takes the number up to 41.
While AFM resembles polio, there is no vaccine for this mysterious disease. The cause remains unknown, although doctors have suggested it might be a virus.
“There’s a sudden onset of weakness in the arm, leg, face, or the muscles that help us swallow and that we use to speak,” Dr. Amaran Moodley from the Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, told KDKA.
Symptoms include weakness of the limbs, facial drooping, and trouble swallowing or speaking. As of now, treatment boils down to alleviating these symptoms.
AFM was first discovered in 2014, and since August of that year, the CDC has received information about a total of 362 cases across the U.S.
My grandfather never recovered the use of his legs, which remained the size of a 5-year-old’s legs for the rest of his life. He learned to walk on crutches and to move in a wheelchair, and his arms became huge and strong. He even went on to win medals in wheelchair sports. He was glad to know that polio has been effectively eradicated by a vaccine, but would be very concerned to hear about AFM.
Let’s hope and pray doctors can find a cure, or perhaps a vaccine. While modern medicine has achieved wonders, there’s always more work to do.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.