It’s rare, it’s like polio and it may be on the rise. Here are the facts about AFM

At least six children under age 10 are facing paralysis, long-term health problems are even death after contracting a “rare but potentially severe condition,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The disorder is called acute flaccid myelitis — or AFM, for short — and there has been an increase in cases across the U.S. since 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Minnesota state health department said all six cases occurred after mid-September, and all six kids have been hospitalized.

This is an usually high number of patients, as the state has “typically seen less than one case a year” since the national uptick started in 2014, the release states.

Here’s what the CDC knows about AFM since the rise began in 2014:

  • The infection mostly affects children

  • The symptoms are similar to other viruses, including polio and West Nile
  • It affects the nervous system, causing muscles and reflexes to become weak

  • The 2014 outbreak coincided with a respiratory illness that known as enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), but the respiratory illness wasn’t detected in every patient with AFM

AFM “can be a complication following a viral infection, but environmental and genetic factors may also contribute to its development,” the Minnesota Department of Health said. “AFM symptoms include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs, sometimes following a respiratory illness.”

Other symptoms include neck weakness, drooping eyelids and slurred speech, according to the state department.

Up through September of this year, 38 cases of AFM have been confirmed in 16 states, according to the CDC, and 362 people have contracted AFM since Aug. 2014.

“It is currently difficult to interpret trends of the AFM data,” the CDC said. “Collecting information about suspected AFM cases is relatively new, and it is voluntary for most states to send this information to CDC.”

The CDC estimates that fewer than one in a million people will get the rare condition each year.

Here’s what the CDC does not yet know about AFM:

  • The cause of most AFM cases (polio and West Nile may lead to it)
  • Why the increase in confirmed cases started in 2014
  • Who is at a higher risk for AFM
  • Long-term effects of the illness. “We know that some patients diagnosed with AFM have recovered quickly, and some continue to have paralysis and require ongoing care,” the CDC said.

“There is no specific treatment for AFM, but a doctor who specializes in treating brain and spinal cord illnesses (neurologist) may recommend certain interventions on a case-by-case basis,” the CDC said. “For example, neurologists may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness caused by AFM.”

Because AFM can develop from a viral infection, the Minnesota health department recommends that families follow “basic steps” to avoid those infections, including by washing hands, staying home if you’re sick and covering your coughs and sneezes.