By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota has its first confirmed case of Acute Flaccid Myelitis, also known as AFM. Although anyone can get it, AFM is typically found in children.

A rare but serious condition, AFM affects the nervous system and can cause sudden paralysis in kids. In 2018, there were 11 cases of AFM in Minnesota. So far in 2019, one case has been officially diagnosed.

“We haven’t had a really good handle on exactly what causes Acute Flaccid Myelitis, but there is more and more information that’s coming out about this condition,” said Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Diseases for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Ehresmann says researchers are looking at a possible link between a strain of a respiratory virus called enterovirus and the condition.

“Almost every case has had a respiratory illness or a fever in about the week before they developed the limb weakness,” Ehresmann said. “They are looking for evidence that these childrens’ immune system responded or kind of fought off this enterovirus that we think it has been linked in time to Acute Flaccid Myelitis.”

Ehresmann said the new information can be a springboard for more research and where we go next.

“Enterovirus is, in particular, one EVD68 — that those play a really important role in causing Acute Flaccid Myelitis. So that’s really, really important that we learn more about this,” Ehresmann said. “Because when you have that kind of information, then you can start looking at, ‘Can you develop a vaccine? Is there something we could do to help prevent this from happening?”

Fewer than one in a million children are affected by AFM. It can paralyze a child’s arms and legs.

AFM can also cause muscle weakness, slurred speech and difficulty moving eyes and swallowing. As of now, there’s no effective treatment.

Researchers are working to figure out if some genetic changes in the virus over the last few years may have made it more prone to causing this polio-like illness.

Reg Chapman