A 4-year-old little boy became paralyzed from the neck down after suffering from AFM, a disease similar to polio. 

It happened really fast. Back in early September, 4-year-old Joey Wilcox of Herndon, Virginia, displayed symptoms of a cold, marked by a fever and upper respiratory problems. Then, on Sep. 25, he woke up paralyzed on one side of his face. Within 48 hours, he was paralyzed from the neck down.

A CT scan and spinal tap at Fairfax Inova Children's Hospital revealed swelling from Joey's brain stem, all the way down his spinal cord. It took weeks of tests and 36 days in the hospital before doctors finally pinpointed the likely culprit: acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

Similar to polio, AFM affects the nervous system in the gray matter of the spinal cord. Very little is known about the disease, so it's difficult to diagnose and almost impossible to treat. Even so, it seems to pop up every two years or so, and primarily among children.

Joey is recovering and is gradually gaining back his mobility, though he's still weak and still suffers from facial paralysis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced recently that, in light of almost 300 AFM cases in 31 states, it has established a task force to investigate the illness and potential treatment options in depth. There are currently nine other potential AFM cases in Virginia.

According to CDC, symptoms of AFM include: 

  • weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs
  • facial droop or weakness
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping eyelids
  • difficulty swallowing
  • slurred speech

If you detect any of these signs in yourself or loved ones, seek medical help immediately.

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