Recently, parents have been alarmed by news stories that describe a mysterious neurological condition \u2014 one that typically affects children. As with every medical development, some basic knowledge can address those fears and help caregivers know exactly what to look for.\nHere, we’ll answer the most common questions fielded by health officials in the wake of the reports:\n\nExactly what is acute flaccid myelitis?\nWhat are the symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis in kids, and in general?\nWhat treatments are available, and how successful are they?\nAre there any ways to prevent AFM? What risk factors are within your control?\n\nIf you notice the symptoms of AFM in your child, make an appointment with one of our specialists at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.\nAFM Defined: What is Acute Flaccid Myelitis?\nAcute flaccid myelitis is an extremely rare spinal inflammation disorder that causes severe muscle weakness and limb paralysis, usually in children. This serious neurological condition first made headlines in 2014 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed 120 total cases across 34 states. During 2016 and recently in 2018, health officials have been concerned by a surge in new cases.\nRisk Factors and Symptoms of Acute Flaccid Myelitis in Kids\nThe term “acute” in medicine means the condition appears abruptly, progresses quickly, and requires urgent care.\nSuspected AFM certainly fits this description. Parents and caregivers of children are often first to notice the symptoms, which include:\n\nMuscle weakness in the arms and legs, often one side is more affected\nDrooping facial features\nNeck stiffness\nDifficulty speaking, swallowing, or breathing\n\nDoctors can diagnose AFM by checking for abnormalities in the spinal cord gray matter on an MRI.\nWhile more research is needed to determine clear risk factors, AFM has coincided with two types of enterovirus in many (not all) of the confirmed cases. Enteroviruses are known for causing mild, short-lasting illnesses. Occasionally though, they develop into neurologic illnesses like meningitis, encephalitis, and now, acute flaccid myelitis. Other viruses associated with AFM include West Nile virus.\nAFM is not known to be contagious; instead, it is considered to be a rare complication of other factors, since it’s triggered by diseases, environment, and genetic variables.\n \r\n \r\n Subscribe to Our Family Health Newsletter \r\n \r\n Enter your email to subscribe\r\n \r\n \r\n\t \r\n \r\n Sign Up \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n I understand that by providing my email address, I agree to receive emails from UPMC. I understand that I may opt out of receiving such communications at any time.\r\n \r\n \r\n \nTreatment and Prevention of AFM\nThere is no specific treatment for acute flaccid myelitis in kids, but supportive care has helped many cases. Some patients make a full recovery, though others need ongoing care.\nMost treatments focus on alleviating the symptoms. A neurologist might prescribe occupational or physical therapy. The CDC is actively investigating the spike in cases of AFM and is keeping health care providers updated on relevant developments.\nOne final bit of good news: You are not powerless.\nWatch for the symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis and share this article with other parents and caregivers. The condition may progress quickly, but potential AFM cases can be identified and treated promptly.\nSince the exact cause of acute flaccid myelitis is still unknown, the CDC also recommends taking standard precautions against conditions that have coincided with AFM:\n\nWash hands often and properly. Opt for hand sanitizer only when soap and water are not available.\nStay current on vaccines, particularly the poliovirus vaccine. Before the Salk poliovirus vaccine (invented at the University of Pittsburgh), there were tens of thousands of cases of paralytic polio per year in the United States.\nProtect yourself and kids against mosquito bites with protective clothing and mosquito repellent, and avoid stagnant water.\n\nFor more questions about acute flaccid myelitis, talk to your doctor. If you notice the symptoms of AFM in your child, make an appointment with one of our specialists at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.