Visit any preschool or day-care center this time of year and you’ll encounter coughs and runny noses. The overwhelming majority of these children will bounce right back from their infection. But during the last few months, several dozen children—and a few adults—around the nation have developed acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a polio-like disease, following mild respiratory illnesses. As of the end of last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 80 AFM cases so far in 2018.
AFM is characterized by lasting and often progressive weakness in an arm or leg, and the CDC has yet to make a firm call about what is causing the rare but serious condition. Many researchers, however, suspect a tie to a common virus. Sarah Hopkins, a pediatric neurologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Perelman School of Medicine, has seen several children with AFM so far this year. In a conversation with Penn Today, she explains what we know about the disease, how doctors and scientists are responding, and what symptoms should raise alarm.
Sarah Hopkins is a pediatric neurologist and section head for multiple sclerosis and neuroinflammatory disorders at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is an assistant professor of clinical neurology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.