Below is the transcript for CDC Telebriefing: Update on Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) in U.S.
Press Briefing Transcript
Tuesday, October 17, 2018
Today I want to update you on CDC’s work on AFM including what we know and what we don’t know about the condition and advice for clinicians and parents. AFM is a rare, but serious condition that affects the nervous system. It specifically affects the area of spinal cord called gray matter and causes muscles and reflexes to become week. We know this can be frightening for parents. I know many parents want to know what the signs and symptoms are that they should be looking for in their child. I encourage parents to seek medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs. CDC has been actively investigating AFM, testing specimens and monitoring disease since 2014 when we first saw an increase in cases. The number of cases reported in this time period in 2018 is similar to what was reported in the fall of 2014 and 2016. Since 2014, most of the AFM cases have been among children. In 2018 so far, CDC has received reports of 127 patients under investigation or PUIs; 62 cases have been confirmed as AFM (in 22 states) –edited for clarity.
CDC and state and local health departments are still investigating some of these PUIs. Of the confirmed cases, the average age is about 4 years old. More than 90 percent of the cases are in children age 18 years and younger. We plan to post updated PUI and AFM counts on our website this afternoon. Going forward, we will report updated case counts on our website every Monday afternoon. We expect that the case count may vary from week to week as our experts work with local and state health departments to investigate their PUIs. Based on previous years, most AFM cases occur in the late summer and fall. The data we are reporting today is a substantially larger number than in previous months this year. CDC recently received increased reports for patients suspected to have AFM with an onset of symptoms in August and September. With enhanced efforts working with state and local health departments and hospitals we were able to confirm a number of these cases faster. Also, CDC is now providing a number of patients still under investigation or PUIs, so people can better investigate increases in confirmed cases over the coming months.
We understand that people particularly parents are concerned about AFM. Right now, we know that poliovirus is not the cause of these AFM cases. CDC has tested every stool specimen from the AFM patients, none of the specimens have tested positive for the poliovirus. AFM can be caused by other viruses, such as enterovirus and west nile virus, environmental toxins and a condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys body tissue that it mistakes for foreign material. While we know that these can cause AFM, we have not been able to find a cause for the majority of these AFM cases.
The reason why we don’t know about AFM — and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness — we continue to investigate to better understand the clinical picture of AFM cases, risk factors and possible causes of the increase in cases. Despite extensive laboratory testing, we have not determined what pathogen or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis in most patients. We don’t know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or the reasons why they may be at higher risk. We don’t fully understand the long-term consequences of AFM. We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care. And we know of one death in 2017 in a child that had AFM. For health care professionals, we have developed a provider tool kit that contains information on AFM and instructions for reporting PUIs to the health department.
CDC’s website has information for families with patients with AFM, links to important resources and a section for health care providers. We will continue to post updates on our website. As a parent myself, I understand what it is like to be scared for your child. Parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now. We recommend seeking medical care right away if you or your child develop sudden weakness of the arms or legs. As we work to better understand what is causing AFM, parents can help protect their children from serious diseases by following prevention steps like washing their hands, staying up to date on recommended immunizations and using insect repellent. While I am concerned about the increase in cases, I want folks to know this work is core to CDC’s mission to protect America from health threats.
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