Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is a rare and severe condition in the nervous system. It particularly affects the spinal cord’s gray matter, causing the muscles and body reflexes to become weak. In the United States, AFM cases have been increasing since 2014, 90% of which are diagnosed in children. This kind of condition is caused by a virus called an enterovirus.  

The cause of AFM is unknown. Researchers suggest that viruses can contribute to its development.  Acute Flaccid Myelitis may often be referred to as a “polio-like” condition, but all the stool specimens acquired from AFM patients turned out to be harmful to poliovirus. Most of the AFM cases affect young children. In the first place of having suspected symptoms of the disease, seeking urgent medical attention from the professional must be the first step upon recognizing symptoms of AFM.


Most children may experience temperate respiratory sickness or flu for one to two weeks caused by the viral infection before AFM symptoms arise. Its symptoms are very similar to polio but none of the AFM cases were caused by poliovirus. Common symptoms of the AFM are:

  • Abrupt arm or leg weakness
  • Sudden muscle tone loss
  • Abrupt reflex loss


Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Difficult eye movement
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Facial weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Pain in the arms, legs, neck, or back


Other uncommon symptoms are:

The patient may also experience blood pressure instability and severe body-temperature change. Serious cases may present respiratory failure symptoms, which occurs when the muscles for breathing become weak. To aid with this, the doctor may recommend using a ventilator.


After the patient has noticed the symptoms, he must see a professional for diagnosis. Upon diagnosis, the patient will undergo several tests that might include the following: 

  • Neurologic exam to assess where there is weakness, poor muscle tone, and decreased reflexes
  • Assessment of images of spinal cord and brain through Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI
  • Laboratory tests to observe the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Nerve conduction velocity to study the nerve speed
  • Electromyography to assess the response of muscles to the messages from the nerves

AFM can be diagnosed by evaluating the patient’s medical history, observing their nervous system, and reviewing images of their spinal cord using MRI.



There is no particular treatment for AFM, but a specialist in brain treatment and spinal cord illnesses may suggest specific medications on a case-to-case basis. Neurologists may prescribe physical or occupational therapy to aid with weakness in arms or legs. Physical rehabilitation might develop permanent results if applied during the first stages of illness.

However, preventing a viral infection can help in decreasing the risk of acquiring acute flaccid myelitis. You can avoid this condition by washing your hands frequently with soap and water, refraining from touching your face with unclean hands, avoiding contact with ill people, cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched areas, and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing.

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