Nothing is more concerning to parents and emergency health care providers than a serious illness that primarily impacts children. The concern is heightened when we don’t know the cause of the illness. These are the current circumstances for acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), and there is currently an ongoing seasonal outbreak of the disease in the United States.
AFM is a rare condition that, similar to polio, destroys gray matter in the spinal cord, resulting in weakness that can progress to flaccid paralysis in hours. The condition first attracted attention in the United States in 2014 during a seasonal enterovirus outbreak.1-4 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has raised concern because AFM cases have continued to show seasonal peaks each year since 2014 (see Figure 1), and we still don’t know the cause.5-7 In addition, AFM is being discussed in the news, generating increased awareness and apprehension. Clinicians are being encouraged to enhance their knowledge about AFM and rapidly engage departments of health for information on appropriate diagnostic and sampling methods for suspected cases.