Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

What is AFM?

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is an uncommon, but life-threatening neurologic condition that affects mostly children and can lead to permanent paralysis. Enteroviruses, particularly EV-D68, are likely responsible for the increase in cases every two years since 2014.

AFM is a medical emergency and patients must be hospitalized and monitored in case they progress to respiratory failure. 

Prompt recognition and immediate action by pediatricians, and emergency department and urgent care providers are critical to achieving the best possible outcomes.


Have there been cases of AFM in Iowa?

One case was reported in 2017 and two cases were reported in 2018. There were no cases reported in 2019, and none so far in 2020.

What are the symptoms of AFM?

The most common symptom is AFM is limb weakness and paralysis.  

Some people may also experience:

  • Recent or current respiratory illness
  • Fever
  • pain or numbness in the limbs
  • Gait difficulty
  • Headache
  • Neck or back pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • neck or facial weakness

What should I do if I or my child have any of these symptoms?

  • Contact a health care provider as soon as possible if AFM symptoms appear; for example, if they or their child is not using their arm.
  • There is no specific treatment for AFM, but a doctor may recommend things like physical and occupational therapy to help with arm or leg weakness.

How can I protect myself and my children from AFM?

Since we don’t know the cause of most of these AFM cases or what triggers this condition, there is no specific action to take to prevent AFM. However, most children had a respiratory illness or fever consistent with a viral infection before they developed AFM.

You can decrease risk of getting viral infections by:

You can decrease the risk of spreading viral infections by:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, including toys and doorknobs
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or upper shirt sleeve, not hands
  • Keeping sick children at home

AFM infographic


Additional Resources:

Page last updated August 6, 2020


For more information about emerging health issues, contact Polly Carver-Kimm at (515) 281-6693

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