Mighty Blog

AFM: What is it and how can I prevent my child from getting it?

CDC urges parents to be careful about acute flaccid myelitis in 2020.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s anticipated that 2020 will be another peak year for cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. While AFM is not a new problem, but many people are learning about it now because of the recent outbreaks.

We talked with Dr. Farah Cassis-Ghavami, pediatric infectious diseases and HIV specialist at Children’s Minnesota, about AFM—what are the symptoms parents should watch for, how kids get it and how parents can prevent it.

What is AFM?

Acute flaccid myelitis is an uncommon but serious neurologic condition, that often presents with sudden onset arm or leg weakness that kids can get after having a viral infection. You may have heard of “EV-D68” when talking about AFM, and that is simply one of the viruses within the group of enteroviruses that is associated with AFM. It’s important to note that there are other viruses that have been linked to AFM but EV-D68 has been linked the most with AFM.

According to the CDC, “We think viruses, including enteroviruses, play a role in causing AFM.”

If your child exhibits any of the following symptoms, find medical care immediately.

What are the symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis?

Little girl with arm pain on the couch.

A child will typically experience symptoms of a viral infection such as fever, respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms 1-2 weeks before they experience symptoms of AFM. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of arm or leg weakness.
  • Difficulty moving the eyes or drooping eyelids.
  • Facial droop or weakness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Pain in arms, legs, neck or back.

What might help prevent AFM?

Avoid getting viral infections by:

Minimize the spread of germs by:

  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and toys.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with shirt or tissue.
  • Keep sick children home.

What’s the difference between COVID-19 and AFM?

While both COVID-19 and the viral symptoms that occur prior to developing AFM can include respiratory symptoms, – cough, and rhinorrhea —there are ways to tell the two viruses apart.

In addition to the respiratory symptoms that come with COVID-19, you may also experience other symptoms such as a loss of taste or smell. With AFM, the most distinct symptom is the weakness or inability to move a limb.

Parents should bring their kids to Children’s Minnesota, their provider or clinic for evaluation if their child has any concerning symptoms, particularly weakness or inability to move a limb.

What to do if you think your child has AFM?

Boy with arm pain and signs of AFM.

As what we know about COVID-19 continues to change rapidly, Children’s Minnesota updates the operations of our primary care and specialty clinics. Here is the most up-to-date information about our clinics: Are Children’s Minnesota clinics open?

Emergency care

With AFM, it’s important to act quickly. If you need immediate medical attention, come to one of our emergency departments.

We have two emergency departments designed especially for infants, children and young adults:

  • Minneapolis: The UnitedHealthcare® Pediatric Emergency Department
  • St. Paul: Peter J. King Pediatric Emergency Department
Alexandra Rothstein