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CDC: Acute Flaccid Myelitis increase could join COVID-19, flu this fall

It's an extremely rare condition, with between 0-11 cases in Minnesota each year since 2014.
Doctor lab test

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced Tuesday that an outbreak of a rare nervous system disorder that most commonly infects children is expected this fall. 

"AFM [acute flaccid myelitis] is a priority for the CDC, as we expect an outbreak this year," said Redfield, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

"The virus comes in two-year cycles, it will be circulating the same time as flu and COVID-19," Redfield noted. "We do not know how the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures will affect AFM; cases may be fewer, or outbreak could be delayed."

While terming AFM as an "outbreak" sounds ominous – and the disease can result in permanent paralysis – there have been minimal confirmed cases of it in Minnesota. Since 2014, when health officials began tracking AFM, there have been between zero and 11 cases in Minnesota each year, and a grand total of 633 cases nationwide, including two deaths. 

Cases in Minnesota year-by-year, per the CDC: 

  • 2020: 1
  • 2019: 1
  • 2018: 11
  • 2017: 0
  • 2016: 1
  • 2015: 0
  • 2014: 3

Per the Department of Health, AFM can produce these symptoms: 

  • Sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs
  • Neck weakness
  • Drooping eyelids or a facial droop
  • Difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

AFM is caused by a variety of germs and viruses, the MDH says, which serves as another good reason to wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick, make sure you're up to date on vaccinations, and try to prevent mosquito bites. 

The CDC says past AFM outbreaks happened primarily from August through November, and that "more than 90% of patients with AFM had a mild respiratory illness or fever consistent with a viral infection before they developed AFM."

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