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We do the best that we can to protect and care for our children, taking the steps necessary to keep them safe from harm where possible. We trust in modern science and medicine to keep our children safe from major illnesses or, where prevention is not entirely possible, to cure them quickly and with as little suffering as possible. Unfortunately, the latest illness on the rise is said to leave some children suffering its effects for years.

The condition known as Acute flaccid Myelitis (AFM) isn’t new, however, up until this point the illness has been so rare that doctors didn’t consider it to be a risk of any significance to the general population. It appears, however, that something has changed. The number of cases being reported since 2014 have health officials across the country concerned.

Take, for example, the state of Minnesota where, on average, there is less than one case of the condition reported each year. However, state officials recently issued a news release confirming that they are investigating a total of six cases since mid-September. Officials add that “For reasons not fully understood, AFM affects mainly children. All recent Minnesota cases have been in children under 10 years old and all were hospitalized. Cases have been reported from the Twin Cities, central Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota.”

While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, most researchers believe that it stems from a viral infection. At this time there is no vaccine, and there is no treatment. When a case is brought to doctors, they can treat the symptoms and provide therapy to help the patient fight the illness, but they must trust in the body’s ability to fight back.

AFM impacts the body’s nervous system including the spinal cord, causing weakness in the muscles. Some earlier symptoms of the disease including facial weakness or drooping, drooping eyelids, difficulty moving one’s eyes, weakness in the arms and legs, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. In time, it can lead to respiratory failure requiring the use of a ventilator, paralysis, and other serious neurological complications that can result in death. As such, if you are at all concerned that your child is showing signs it is recommended that you seek medical attention immediately.

The good news is that the condition is not believed to be infectious. However, given that it has been associated with viral infections, health care professionals warn that we must focus on handwashing as a preventative measure. It is also important to protect your children from mosquito bites as they have been associated with the spread of infections and viruses. Furthermore, parents are encouraged to be on the look-out for any signs or symptoms that their children may be falling ill in any way. Catching these possible infections early will increase their chances of preventing them from developing into AFM.

While there has been an increase in cases, health officials advise parents that it is still incredible are and not a cause for panic at this time. They are taking every step possible to better understand the uptick in cases, as well as the best course of action for those that have been diagnosed. The best thing that parents can do at this time is to take the necessary precautions and stay informed.