Health experts warn of possible spike of ‘polio-like’ illness

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — The CDC and local health experts are warning of a possible resurgence of Acute Flaccid Myelitis, also known as AFM. The rare neurological illness was first recognized in 2014 and reappears every other autumn in increasing numbers.

238 cases were confirmed in children 2018. With the fall season in full swing, experts, like Dr. Elizabeth Sekul, are encouraging parents to be aware of AFM so they know what to look for in their children.

Courtesy: CDC

“The big part and big problem is it can be very rapidly progressive and can cause respiratory compromise,” Sekul, a pediatric neurologist at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, explained. “It can even stop them from breathing if it’s in certain parts of the spinal cord.”

Symptoms include weakness in arms or legs, facial drooping and trouble breathing, among others. While young children are mostly affected, teens can be diagnosed as well.

“This is a very devastating disorder,” Sekul said. “Their recovery is quite poor.”

Tracy Geisberg’s son Trevor was 16 when he began showing symptoms of AFM. He had trouble breathing, and quickly became weak and couldn’t walk. Trevor was rushed to the hospital but is now paralyzed in his left leg.

“He was supposed to be so healthy with all the soccer and track he was doing, and here he was dying on the emergency room table,” Geisberg explained.

Trevor spent about three months in the hospital and is still trying to regain his strength two years after he began showing symptoms of AFM.

“He was in a wheelchair,” Geisberg said. “He had to try to use a walker to get his upper body strength back.”

Courtesy: CDC

At least 21 cases of AFM had been reported as of August 31, 2020, according to the CDC. In the age of COVID-19, Dr. Sekul warns parents should not put off taking their children to a doctor if they start showing symptoms.

“Listen to your children, especially after viral illnesses, if they start complaining of neck or back pain associated with any weakness,” Dr. Sekul says. “Then, get them seen acutely for that.”

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