For a parent in Louisiana, almost nothing is scarier than the thought of a child falling ill. It is even scarier when a child falls ill with a mysterious illness of which doctors are unsure of the exact cause or most effective treatment.
Families in at least three states are currently going through this nightmarish scenario as there has been a recent increase in cases of acute flaccid myelitis, a rare condition frequently described as "polio-like" because it affects the nervous system and often produces symptoms of paralysis that may become permanent. As of the end of September, there have been 38 confirmed cases of AFM in the United States this year, all affecting children, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with multiple cases reported in the states of Colorado, Minnesota and most recently Pennsylvania.
Though doctors are unsure of the cause of the AFM, it may be a reaction to infection with an enterovirus. Like viruses that cause upper respiratory infections such as the common cold, an enterovirus can spread via sneezing or coughing. An MRI of a 4-year-old child infected with AFM showed abnormality throughout his spinal cord. As the virus affects the nervous system, children infected may experience symptoms of paralysis that may appear suddenly. An affected child may demonstrate an inability to move his or her arms, legs or neck.
In 2016 there were 149 cases of AFM, the highest number of reported cases on record in the United States. The cause of the increased number of infections this year is still unknown.
Because most doctors do not often encounter a disease such as AFM, there is potential for misdiagnosis or medical error. Individuals or families affected by malpractice may wish to consult with a lawyer regarding medical liability.