Polio-like illness scares parents, but is not in Utah

Oct 17, 2018, 10:21 AM
Utah does not have any cases of AFM, a polio-like illness...
Getty Images stock photo

SALT LAKE CITY — The Centers for Disease Control is investigating the spread of a polio-like illness known as Acute Flaccid Myelitis, but so far, there are no cases in the state of Utah.

The words “polio-like” alarmed parents but health experts say there are also reasons to be optimistic. Here’s what you need to know.

Reasons not to panic

First, the CDC reports the rate of infection with Acute Flaccid Myelitis, also known as AFM, is extremely low in the US. The rate of cases is fewer than one in a million.

Second, while we don’t yet know what causes AFM, some cases appear to be connected to either poliovirus or West Nile Virus. Therefore, the CDC recommends vaccinating your children against polio and taking steps to reduce your risk of West Nile Virus, which is spread by mosquitos. Those steps include using insect repellent, staying indoors when mosquitos are most active (at dawn and dusk), and remove standing water around your home.

The CDC also recommends following the same guidelines you would for preventing the spread of any illness, which includes good hand-washing habits.

Third, over the past several years, the number of cases reached its annual peak in September. If 2018 follows this pattern, the number of cases should now taper off.

AFM is a polio-like illness tracked by the CDC since 2014

CDC: Updated October 16, 2018
^ Confirmed AFM cases that CDC has been made aware of as of October 16, 2018, with an onset of the condition through September 30, 2018. The case counts are subject to change.
* The data shown from August 2014 to July 2015 are based on the AFM investigation case definition: onset of acute limb weakness on or after August 1, 2014, and a magnetic resonance image (MRI) showing a spinal cord lesion largely restricted to gray matter in a patient age ≤21 years.
† The data shown from August 2015 to present are based on the AFM case definition adopted by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE): acute onset of focal limb weakness and an MRI showing spinal cord lesion largely restricted to gray matter and spanning one or more spinal segments, regardless of age.

The illness does appear to be more common among children, but adults are also susceptible to AFM.

Polio-like symptoms to watch for

The symptoms of AFM include sudden onset of arm or leg weakness, along with the loss of muscle tone or reflexes. Some people also experience facial droop or weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.

In extreme cases, people with AFM may have difficulty passing urine or breathing as the muscles used in those functions become weak. If you or someone in your family experiences any of these polio-like symptoms, seek medical attention.

The CDC is investigating 62 confirmed cases of AFM in 2018, spread across 22 states. However, there are more suspected cases that may be added to that number.

NBC News reached out to the Utah Health Department to confirm there are no reported cases so far in Utah.

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