New virus raising concern among health officials

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Health officials are warning of a rare but serious virus with polio-like symptoms affecting mostly children, a case of which has recently occurred in Kentucky.


Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or AFM,
affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, causing weakness in one or more limbs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  From August 2014 through September 2018, the CDC says they have received information on 386 confirmed cases across the country.  So far this year, there are 62 confirmed cases of AFM in 22 states, among 127 suspected cases.


Dr. Mel Bennett, with the Infectious Disease Branch of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said the cause of AFM is not known yet. “It is most probably some type of viral illness.  We have seven or eight viruses that we are looking at as the culprit, none of which are specifically treatable.”


Bennett said its similarity to the polio virus is why people are so concerned.  “Because their grandparents remember polio in days gone by, and we in public health remember how we teamed up with the health care community to address it.”


AFM, while rare, is not totally unknown in Kentucky.  “Two years ago, we had four confirmed cases,” he said.  “Once an ‘A’ case is confirmed, the medical centers tend to look more carefully for more cases.  So now that we have had a case this year, the clinicians know to be on the alert for it.”


Bennett has this advice for parents: “If they have a sick child that’s showing evidence of droopy eyes, muscle weakness or widespread muscle aches, having them evaluated by their provider should be the next step.”


Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.


Still, Bennett said children are more at risk of dying from the flu than AFM.  “These has only been one case associated with a fatality, which has been monitored since 1987.  However, with flu, last year alone we had 80,000 deaths from the flu nationwide, while in Kentucky five children succumbed to the flu, and that’s preventable.”


He said the same precautions should be taken to avoid AFM, as you would with the flu. “Avoid sick people, wash your hands frequently with soap and water.  It’s amazing what that does.”

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