An Associated Press report Tuesday has shed new light on the rare spinal cord disease that bears similarities to polio: acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, which is largely diagnosed in young children.
The AP referenced a medical report filed Tuesday in mBio from Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and others, who warns that there could be an increase from the 228 confirmed cases in 2018.
Dr. Fauci does not believe that AFM will be an epidemic like polio once was before a vaccine in the 1950s, but said, "don't assume that it's going to stay at a couple of hundred cases every other year" and in the article it claims that AFM "has been reemerging globally in epidemic form."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines AFM as "a rare but serious condition. It affects the nervous system, specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter, which causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak." Early symptoms can appear similar to a cold or a viral fever, but can be followed by paralysis that may prove deadly in some cases.
Priya Duggal, a genetic researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told USA Today in October that AFM appears to be cyclical at every two years.
"It's pretty tragic to see these families and to talk to these parents and realize how much their lives have been upended," Duggal said.
AFM had its first boom of cases in 2014, with 120 confirmed cases in the U.S. that were mostly centered in Colorado and California. Since then, there has seen a cyclical pattern, as Duggal noted, with 2015 dropping to 22, followed by 149 in 2016, and 35 in 2017. It was 2018 that saw the sharpest uptick at 228.
Doctors have been able to use treatments that involve steroids, antibiotics, antiviral meds, or a blood-cleansing process to try and combat the disease, though there has been limited success. Physical therapy is considered a helpful remedy.
"About half of kids with AFM will strengthen up enough on their own that they won't require any form of surgical intervention for their nerves. The other half won't," Dr. Mitchel Seruya, director of the Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, told CBS News in October.
The CDC has set up a scientific task force to monitor and research AFM.
This article originally appeared in IBTimes US.