I like to check out the CDC.gov website at least every other week to catch the latest Vital Signs and outbreak warnings. I’ve become accustomed to the posts about Ebola and measles, but on July 9, the CDC headlines were about a rare but serious illness I’d never heard of before – acute flaccid myelitis, also known as AFM. Any of you with young families will want to pay attention to this one.
AFM affects the spinal cord and causes limb weakness It preys mostly on children – the average age is 5. AFM has serious consequences for otherwise healthy children. Ninety-eight percent of them are hospitalized, 60% are admitted to intensive care units and 27% require machines to help them breathe. The symptoms linger and are disturbingly similar to those of polio, although all patients have tested negative for the polio virus. The mention of polio set off an alarm in my head – my own mother nearly died of polio in the 1930s epidemic; she was left crippled for life and confined to a wheelchair by the time she was 50. I decided to do more research.
Since the CDC began tracking it in 2014, There have been three nationwide outbreaks of AFM. The third and largest outbreak was in 2018, when the CDC confirmed that 233 patients in 41 states had contracted the disease. There is both an every-other-year pattern and a seasonal pattern to the outbreaks – most patients develop AFM between August and October. Another factor seemed to be that affected children had a mild respiratory illness or fever less than a week before they developed arm or leg weakness. These are important pieces of evidence indicating that viruses, including enteroviruses, play a role in AFM. Every clue matters if a preventative or treatment is to be found, so the CDC needs your help in collecting vital data. Doctors and other clinicians across the US play a critical role. If you suspect a problem, please see your doctor. Early recognition of patients with AFM symptoms, prompt testing, and immediate reporting of suspected AFM cases to health departments will give researchers a better chance of understanding both the causes of AFM and of the recurrent outbreaks. Until more is known, nothing can be done to prevent the number of cases from increasing with every cycle, and at the present time, there is no cure. Experts have tried using different types of physical therapy treatments in patients with AFM, but there is no good evidence that any of those treatments have had any benefit. But while this news is disturbing, there’s no need to panic – AFM is still relatively rare. Unfortunately, it becomes less rare every year. This is a problem that all parents will want to take seriously.
The outbreak news is somewhat less serious. Today’s posts were all about salmonella and the primary offender was pig ear doggy treats. I would expect that dogs would be affected by contaminated ears, but an astonishing number of humans have been affected too. The real surprise is that not all of them are dog owners. Apparently, customers in pet stores are contracting the disease by fondling the treats in the bulk bins. So, a warning to those of you with pets: stop running your hands through the deep fried swine ears. I know that it’s tempting, but just don’t.
Number two on the salmonella warning list went to those of us who raise chickens in our backyards. I didn’t think that this would have any great relevance to the city dwellers of our state, but apparently it does. We have a very sincere desire to raise our own chickens in RI. Until 2010, Providence banned chicken-keeping entirely, but that year, a coalition of determined residents worked together to overturn the ban. Since then, sites ranging from Southside Community Land Trust to the West End became home to happily clucking flocks. Soon, Barrington followed Providence, and other towns began petitioning for their own right to raise fowl. There is even a Legalize Backyard Chickens in Woonsocket Facebook page for those of you who want to join in the fight. So, backyard chicken farmers of RI, take heed: 1) Try not to touch your chickens. Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching either the birds or anything in the area where they live and roam. 2) Don’t let your chickens inside the house; I know how funny it was on the TV show “Friends” when Joey and Chandler’s duck and chicken emerged squawking from the bathroom to scare unsuspecting dates, but resist the urge to try this at home. 3) Don’t eat or drink with your chickens or in their coops (does the CDC really need to tell us this?) and, 4) Don’t kiss your chickens or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth. For a complete list of recommendations, visit cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyard-poultry.html
To check out the latest breaking news yourself, visit cdc.gov