Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare neurological disorder but a severe health condition that affects the spinal cord (grey matter) and can result in sudden weakness in the arms, legs, loss of muscle tone and reflexes. This condition mainly affects young children. In most cases, children may have respiratory illness or fever caused by a viral infection about several weeks before developing symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis. If your child shows any symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis, then seek immediate medical attention, as it can progress rapidly. Prompt hospitalization is required and sometimes a ventilator is also needed for breathing support.
Some of the common signs and symptoms associated with acute flaccid myelitis include:
Arm or leg weakness
Loss of muscle tone
Loss of reflexes
Other signs and symptoms include:
Pain in the arms, legs, neck or back
Uncommon symptoms include:
Difficulty to pass urine
Severe symptoms include respiratory failure as the muscles involved in breathing become weak. It’s also possible to experience life-threatening body temperature alterations and unstable blood pressure.
Acute flaccid myelitis may be caused due to an infection with a virus called an enterovirus. Respiratory problems and fever are common among children affected with enteroviruses. Generally, most patients recover well but at times some people with an enterovirus infection develop acute flaccid myelitis.
This condition mainly affects young children.
Sometimes muscle weakness caused by acute flaccid myelitis may persist for months to years.
The healthcare provider examines the patient and collects a thorough medical history. Further, the doctor may also recommend some of these tests:
Examining The Nervous System
The doctor examines the areas on the body where the child has a weakness, poor muscle tone and decreased reflexes.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
This imaging test helps the doctor to evaluate the brain and the spinal cord functions.
The doctor may also collect samples of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid), respiratory fluid, blood, and stool for lab analysis.
A nerve monitor test will assess how fast an electrical impulse travel through the nerves and the response of muscles to messages received from the nerves.
Acute flaccid myelitis can be difficult to diagnose, as most of the symptoms are common to other neurological diseases like Guillain -Barre syndrome. However, these tests can help the doctor to distinguish acute flaccid myelitis from other health conditions.
At present, there is no specific treatment mode available for this condition, however, the main aim of treatment is to manage symptoms.
A neurologist may suggest physical or occupational therapy to support arm or leg weakness. If physical therapy is started during the starting phase of the condition, it may assist in promoting long-term recovery.
The doctor may also suggest treating the patient with immunoglobulin that contains healthy antibodies from donors and prescribe drugs to lower inflammation in the body. In rare cases, nerve and muscle transfer surgeries are done to enhance limb function.
There’s no specific way to avert acute flaccid myelitis, however, averting a viral infection can help lessen the risk of developing acute flaccid myelitis.
Follow some of these simple measures to safeguard yourself or your child from getting or transmitting a viral infection.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, as and when needed
- Avoid touching the face with uncleaned hands
- Stay away from people who are sick
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
- Cover your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing with a tissue or upper shirt sleeve
- Keep children at home if unwell