The AFM Virus Symptoms Every Parent Should Know About

Doctors now know more about the disease than ever before.

By Madeline Merinuk

Doctors have been baffled by acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) since 2014, when the first diagnosis was recorded. This polio-like illness has affected people of all ages, but most of the over 560 cases have been seen in children. Dr. Ian Lipkin, an authority on pathogens and director for the Center for Infection at Columbia University, has been studying the disease since its first diagnosis. He spoke with Dr. Oz about how to spot AFM virus symptoms the minute they start, and wants to make sure parents understand the symptoms and are able to spot them sooner rather than later.

AFM is typically pretty hard to diagnose at first because it usually starts out with symptoms similar to those of a common cold, including a cough, runny nose, and a persistent fever. Scientists have determined that AFM is a virus that affects the spinal cord and are currently working towards a vaccine. Researchers at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the University of California San Diego recently developed new techniques to help identify the elusive viruses likely responsible for causing this condition. Anything researchers find out about this disease brings them one step closer to finding a cure.

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But until then, it's important to know what symptoms may be cause for concern (and a trip to the hospital), as well as prevention methods to help keep your family safe. The progression of weakness is very fast, with many people reporting that it happens over a period of hours. Though it took a while to come up with a consistent list of symptoms, Dr. Lipkin says they have narrowed down at least four that are very common in people who have contracted AFM.

AFM Symptoms

  • Difficulty moving eyes or drooping eyelids
  • Facial droop or weakness
  • Difficulty swallowing or slurred speech
  • Sudden arm or leg weakness

According to Dr. Lipkin, this virus has been "circulating with increased frequency" on a global scale. So, even though it's a rare illness, people are still developing it and therefore it's still crucial to stay aware of the symptoms.

AFM Prevention Tips

The potenital development of the AFM vaccine has been on the front lines of breaking medical news. But until the vaccine is created, tested, and becomes available, there are prevention methods to take to try and avoid catching the virus. Dr. Lipkin recommends using the same precautionary methods that you would with any virus, like washing your hands frequently to stop the spread of germs. In case you need a refresher on the most effective way to wash your hands, the CDC recommends washing with soap for 20 seconds, or a full round of the "Happy Birthday" song, and then rinsing.

You should also avoid touching your face as germs can spread easily into your nose or mouth. Additionally, while it may seem like a no-brainer, it's important to point out that you should avoid close contact with people who are sick so you don't catch any of their germs. 

Related:

4 Mothers Open Up About Their Children's Struggles with AFM

What Is Acute Flaccid Myelitis? Why Researchers May Be Closer to a Vaccine

Myth or Fact: 6 Things to Know About Vaccines

Article written by Madeline Merinuk