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The Impact Of A Rare Polio-Like Disease

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Over the last year, there has been a flurry of news about AFM, which the Centers for Disease Control calls a “polio-like’ disease.";s:

Over the last year, there has been a flurry of news about a disease known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). The Centers for Disease Control has called it a “polio-like” disease, and many news reports have compared it to polio, as both diseases are mainly contracted by children.

AFM is a neurological disease transmitted in part by common viruses. The disease can cause inflammation of the spinal cord and lead to weakness in the arms and legs among other symptoms, according to Susann Ahrabi-Fard, epidemiologist for the Bureau of Communicable Diseases at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

She explains that while the disease may be somewhat similar to polio, AFM is not the epidemic disease infecting thousands of people the way polio did in the early 20th century. As of Dec. 5, there are seven confirmed cases of AFM in Wisconsin and 134 total cases confirmed by the CDC.

Credit U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Map of confirmed cases of AFM in the U.S. by state.

The two diseases are similar because of the range and variance of symptoms, including the possibility of paralysis and varied rates of recovery. 

"Some of the kids, or people in general, recover fully and some never fully recover. So, it’s a serious and very scary disease," Ahrabi-Fard says.

Simple measures like washing your hands with soap and water and sanitizing are the best line of defense against AFM, as with other diseases and viruses that are more common.

"It's incredibly rare, and if you're going to worry about things, you should worry about influenza right now and getting a vaccine that you know you can get for that," she says.

For more information about AFM, the flu and other diseases, you can read about them from The Centers for Disease Control

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.