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U of M-doctor helps unravel AFM mystery

MINNEAPOLIS – Halloween is a welcome treatment for Dr. Mark Schleiss. When he is not home, this professor in pediatrician…

MINNEAPOLIS – Halloween is a welcome treatment for Dr. Mark Schleiss. When he is not home, this professor in pediatrician at the University of Minnesota Medical School often sees children when they are not so healthy and lately there is a topic that continues to haunt their parents.

For several weeks, concerns have arisen locally and nationally about an outbreak of a virus that can cause weakness and paralysis in the arms and legs of children. It is known as AFM, which is short for acute windy myelitis.

“Acute means it’s coming suddenly,” says Dr. Mark Schleiss, professor of pediatrician at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

“Flaccid means you lose control, usually of an arm, or sometimes all the extremities in severe cases. Myelitis simply means infections of the spinal cord, so it sounds scary,” said Dr. Schleiss.

Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed seven cases of AFM in the state since September and according to CDC, there have been a total of 72 confirmed cases in 24 states this year.

But Dr. Schleiss says what has been billed as a mystery disease is not really as mysterious as it seems.

“Everyone working in a nursing home is acquainted with AFM,” said Schleiss. “We usually get one or two cases a year, and although we have seen this rise in 2018, it comes to an uptick that has really happened a while.”

CDC documented similar nails in AFM cases 2014 (120 cases) and 2016 (149 cases). In all these years, including 2018, most cases were reported in September.

Nevertheless, CDC searches for a common link that will point to what causes it.

“At the time a child has paralysis from AFM, the infection has already taken its course,” Schleiss says. “So it’s hard to find the virus.”

But it does not stop medical professionals from going to find out more . U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital is now collaborating with Children’s Hospital of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health and CDC to communicate information about their cases. They also begin to communicate with researchers across the country to develop a plan ahead, hoping to make the future a bit less scary.

“A network is being created by interested and investigated investigators who want to work together to try to understand this outbreak better,” says Dr. Schleiss. “Trying to establish a network to test the hypothesis about why we have seen this spread across the country this year.”

© 2018 KARE

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