At least five children in Maryland may have contracted a “polio-like” disease known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), Maryland Department of Health officials said this week.
The children are among several dozen others across the United States who have exhibited possible symptoms of AFM, and who are currently being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The effects of AFM are devastating and closely linked to polio, affecting the spinal cord and causing weakness and pain in the arms, legs, and face. Other symptoms include difficulty moving the eye, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, and/or difficulty swallowing. Rarer indicators of AFM are respiratory failure and paralysis. The disease most often affects children.
Cases of AFM have steadily increased since 2014, with the CDC reporting 38 confirmed cases in 16 states this year. Washington state health officials reported last week that they were similarly investigating six possible cases of the disease.
To prevent further spread, the CDC has advised people to keep up to date with their vaccines, avoid contact with sick individuals, and disinfect surfaces they may have touched. Officials have also advised the public to protect themselves against mosquito bites.
— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) October 12, 2018
The recent uptick in AFM cases comes as health officials are concerned with the growing number of children in the United States that have not received some or all of their recommended vaccinations. According to recent federal health data, the number of children under the age of 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled in the last 17 years alone.
The Florida Department of Health this week also announced the first reported pediatric death for the 2018-2019 flu season. According to officials, the child had not received a flu vaccination and had been healthy prior to contracting the flu virus.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most Americans can get a flu shot for free, which is important considering the CDC estimates a shot reduces the likelihood of flu-related illness by 40 to 60 percent. Eighty percent of the nearly 80,000 Americans who died of the flu during last year’s deadly flu season were not vaccinated.