The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in the United States is currently investigating six cases of a rare disease that seems to resemble polio. Known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), it is a condition that affects the nervous system, causing muscles to weaken.
According to a press release issued by the department, AFM can result as a complication following a viral infection. Environmental and genetic factors can also contribute to its development. Symptoms of the disease include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs, neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.
AFM seems to mainly target children. Six cases of the disease have occured in Minnesota since mid-September, with all patients under 10 years of age. There was also an outbreak of the disease in the United States in 2014, with three confirmed cases. Disease investigators linked the outbreak to a virus known as enterovirus D68 (EVD68) which is closely related to polio. Since then, only one case was recorded per year, until this latest outbreak.
AFM can be diagnosed by an examination of the patient’s nervous system, getting an MRI scan and testing spinal fluid. MDH recommends testing as soon as symptoms are observed. However, there is still no specific treatment available for the disease. Medical interventions continue to vary on a case-by-case basis.