Florida confirms state’s first case of AFM, a rare, polio-like illness

The rare but serious polio-like illness that affects the nervous system, causing sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes.
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Published December 24 2018

State and federal health officials confirmed Florida’s first case of Acute Flaccid Myelitis in 2018 on Saturday, adding to what has become a record year of cases for the rare but serious polio-like illness that affects the nervous system, causing sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes.

Florida health officials did not give any additional information about the case, such as a description of the affected individual, their condition or county of residence.

AFM is not a new condition. But it is a disease without a known cause that has spiked in cases reported since 2014, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first started surveillance of the illness. The CDC has seen increases in AFM cases every two years since 2014 and mostly in young children.

As of Dec. 14, the CDC had reported 165 confirmed cases of AFM in 36 states in 2018. All but five cases have been in children younger than 18. Florida’s first case of the year reported on Saturday adds to the nationwide count.

In November, federal health officials alarmed by the increase of cases this year appointed a task force to investigate the cause of AFM and the best way to treat and prevent the illness.

The risk of getting AFM varies by age and year. The CDC estimates that fewer than one to two in a million children in the United States will get AFM every year.

Since 2014, most patients had a mild respiratory illness or fever before they developed the condition. The increase in AFM cases in 2014 coincided with a national outbreak of severe respiratory illness among people caused by enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), although a direct association has not been established between enteroviruses and AFM.

RELATED: Why are we suddenly hearing about hepatitis A outbreaks? Experts blame the opioid crisis. AFM is latest in a string of viral issues the health department has managed this year. Florida's Surgeon General and Health Officer, Dr. Celeste Philip, issued a health advisory a month ago related to a spike in hepatitis A outbreaks. Tampa Bay and the Orlando areas were specifically mentioned as hot spots for the virus.

Two workers at a pair of restaurants in the region were found to have the virus, prompting one restaurant to close permanently and causing the other to be placed under investigation. The advisory also stressed the importance of vaccination against hepatitis A, which spreads person-to-person through feces contaminated with the virus.

Pinellas County also experienced an outbreak of measles this summer, for the first time in 20 years. Three cases of the highly-contagious virus were identified in unvaccinated people in August.

Similar to AFM, mealses and hepatits A outbreaks are on the rise nationally and in Florida.

Times staff writer Justine Griffin contributed to this report.

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