NEW ORLEANS - A mysterious illness, causing paralysis in young children, has now been reported in 31 states including Louisiana. So far, there's no treatment for Acute Flaccid Myelitis, but doctors are trying different approaches to try and fight it.
Eyewitness News spoke with a Children's Neurologist to learn more about the illness and what parents need to keep an eye out for.
Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is extremely rare, but doctors are seeing an uptick of cases. So far this year, 116 reports of AFM have been confirmed in the U.S. with one now confirmed in Louisiana.
"It's extremely terrifying," said Ann Tilton, MD. "I think as a parent, any time your child gets a cold you're probably thinking, 'Is this the one that's going to turn into the more dramatic type?"
Tilton is with LSU Health and Children's Child Neurology. She's knowledgeable about AFM and has seen first-hand what this rare disease can do.
"It attacks the anterior horn cells and these are actually the little neurons that are in the front part of the spinal cord that send the motor messages out to your muscles," she said.
So what starts as a common cold can progress into something more serious a few days later. Symptoms to look out for include drooping face, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and extreme muscle weakness.
"And it's not always everywhere," she said. "Instead, it's like one arm, one leg, or both arms and legs because it attacks certain areas of the spinal cord in a somewhat random kind of fashion. "It can be serious enough though, where it can go up to the brain stem where you breathe. All-in-all this is polio-like, it's not polio. It acts in a similar way because it attacks that part of the nervous system that controls the motor movement."
What's even more terrifying, is there's no known cause or treatment. It's also tough to diagnose and is most common in young kids. In 2018, the CDC reports the average age of patients with AFM is 4-years-old.
One thing that is known, is AFM cases spike nationally every two years (2018 is one of those years). According to the CDC website:
-In 2017, 33 confirmed cases of AFM were reported
-In 2016, 149 cases of AFM were reported
-In 2015, 22 confirmed cases of AFM happened in 17 states
-In 2014, from August to December, 120 cases were confirmed
"So, every two years there've been what you can call clusters," said Tilton. "At least three cases here at this facility."
With so many unknowns, this mysterious virus has many worried.
"Well, I think we're all concerned about it," said Tilton. "We'd love to have a predictor and we'd also love to change the course of it."
And while rare, Tilton advises parents to not panic but be aware of what their child may be experiencing. She also adds one of the best things parents can do is remind their children to practice good hygiene by washing their hands and often.