Understanding Acute Flaccid Myelitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter. This condition leads to sudden onset of arm or leg weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes. AFM has been associated with viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders, though its exact cause remains not fully understood. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of acute flaccid myelitis, providing essential information for both healthcare professionals and the general public.


Causes and Risk Factors

Acute flaccid myelitis is often preceded by a viral infection. Enteroviruses, particularly enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), and other viruses like poliovirus and West Nile virus, have been linked to AFM. However, not everyone who gets infected with these viruses will develop AFM. It is believed that genetic and environmental factors might also play a role in determining who gets affected by the disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The primary symptom of AFM is sudden weakness in one or more arms or legs, accompanied by loss of muscle tone and decreased or absent reflexes. Other symptoms may include difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, facial droop, difficulty swallowing, or slurred speech. Severe cases of AFM can lead to respiratory failure if the muscles involved with breathing become weak.

Diagnosing AFM involves a thorough medical history and physical examination, along with tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain and spinal cord, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis to check for signs of inflammation or infection, and nerve conduction studies to assess the electrical activity of muscles and nerves.

Treatment and Management

Currently, there is no specific treatment for acute flaccid myelitis, but interventions aim to manage and alleviate symptoms. Treatment options may include:

  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation to improve muscle strength and mobility
  • Medications to manage pain and other symptoms
  • Ventilatory support for patients with respiratory failure

Early intervention with physical therapy and rehabilitation can significantly improve outcomes for some patients. Researchers are also exploring the use of antiviral drugs and immunoglobulin treatments to combat the underlying infections that may trigger AFM.


Since AFM can be preceded by viral infections, preventive measures largely involve avoiding viruses and boosting the immune system. These measures include:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water
  • Avoiding close contact with sick individuals
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces
  • Staying up to date with vaccinations, including the poliovirus and other routine vaccines


Acute Flaccid Myelitis is a rare, but serious condition that requires prompt recognition and intervention. While research continues to uncover more about the causes, treatments, and ways to prevent AFM, understanding the symptoms and taking preventive measures against viral infections are key steps in protecting oneself and loved ones. If you or someone you know develops symptoms of AFM, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately for the best possible outcome.

Understanding and addressing acute flaccid myelitis remains a priority for the medical community, with ongoing research and efforts aimed at improving the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of this debilitating condition.