Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) has been a big health news topic in the United States this year with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reporting 62 confirmed cases in 22 states.


To date, it is still not clear what the causative agent is although we know that some enteroviruses have been implicated in the past.

Back in 2014, when enterovirus D68 was implicated in a number of cases, our neighbors to the north also saw quite a few AFM cases.

What is the situation in Canada this year?

Canadian health officials report 33 total cases–18 confirmed and 15 being investigated as of this week. At present a confirmed increase of cases above the annual average has not been seen in Canada.

CDC on acute flaccid myelitis: ‘The number of cases reported in this time period in 2018 is similar to what was reported in the fall of 2014 and 2016’

Acute flaccid myelitis is a term used to describe the sudden onset of weakness in one or more limbs. The weakness is a result of inflammation (swelling) of the spinal cord which carries messages to and from the brain.

The condition can be caused by auto immune diseases or exposure to environmental toxins. It can also be caused by a number of different viruses, including non-polio enteroviruses or West Nile virus. Sometimes the condition has no known cause.

Symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis usually include the sudden onset of weakness in the arms and/or legs or decreased or absent reflexes in the limbs. Occasionally symptoms are accompanied by facial weakness or drooping. Some patients report pain associated with the onset of symptoms.

Although an increase in AFM cases has not been reported in Canada, Canadians are advised to reduce their risk by taking the same precautions they would during cold and flu season, including:

  • Frequent handwashing;
  • Coughing and sneezing into their arm, and not their hands;
  • Keeping common surface areas clean, such as countertops;
  • Avoiding touching their face with their hands; and
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.