Acute Flaccid Myelitis in U.S. Children

Families may have recently heard news stories about children suddenly developing weakness in their arms or legs. The condition, called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is extremely rare (the chances of having AFM is one in one million), but the number of cases has increased sharply in recent years (396 confirmed cases from August 2014 to September 2018). Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to say about the condition.

Parents may be hearing about children in the United States who suddenly became weak in their arms or legs from a condition called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. This condition is not new, but the increase in cases we saw starting in 2014 is new. There are different possible causes, such as viruses and environmental toxins. AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, which can cause the muscles and reflexes in the body not to work normally.

In August 2014, CDC was made aware of an increased number of people, mostly children, with AFM. Since then, we’ve been working hard to better understand AFM, what puts people at risk of getting it, and the possible causes. AFM remains rare (less than one in a million people), even with the recent increase in cases. However, AFM is serious, and we don’t yet know what causes most people to get it or how to protect people from getting AFM. As we continue to learn about AFM, we urge parents to seek medical care right away if their child develops symptoms of AFM.

Symptoms of AFM

AFM is rare, but it can lead to serious neurologic problems. You should seek medical care right away if you or your child develops any of these symptoms:

  • 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

Infections That Can Cause Conditions like AFM

Certain viruses, such as poliovirusand West Nile virus, may sometimes lead to conditions like AFM. You can protect yourself and your children from these viruses by:

  • Making sure you are all up to date on polio vaccinations.
  • Protecting against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).

What CDC is Doing About AFM

CDC has been investigating AFM since we were made aware of an increased number of people with this condition in August 2014.

We have done extensive lab testing on specimens from patients, but have not determined what caused most of these people to get AFM. It is unclear what pathogen (germ) or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis. AFM may have a variety of possible causes such as viruses and environmental toxins.

We are continuing to learn as much as we can about AFM by looking at each case to figure out what puts people at risk of getting this condition and what is causing it. Also, we are urging doctors to be alert for patients with symptoms of AFM and to report patients under investigation for AFM to their health departments.

If you would like to learn more about what CDC is doing, please visit CDC’s AFM in the United States website. If you would like to learn more about AFM, please visit CDC’s acute flaccid myelitis website.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Life can be stressful at times, even for kids. Concerns about grades, peer pressure, friend issues, bullying, traumatic events, and more can lead to stress. Some stress can be productive—cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, and provides a temporary boost to physical and mental ability. Those brief periods of stress can be productive and help a child be motivated to accomplish tasks that might be a little intimidating.

However, when stressful feelings continue over time, cortisol impairs brain functioning and suppresses the immune system. During childhood when the brain is still connecting the neural circuits for dealing with stress, chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. Chronic stress in childhood can evenincrease the risk of diseases in adulthood.

How to Cope with Stress

Much of how to cope with stress applies to anyone, adults or children.

  • Take care of SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure, and Food)—get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, do something fun and relaxing to take a break, and eat healthy.
  • Talk to others, sharing your problems and how you are feeling and coping.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—while they may seem to ease stress in the short term, over the long term they create problems that increase stress.
  • Take a break from what’s causing your stress.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Stress often comes in part from feeling unable to manage what life is giving you, and for children, there are many things that can leave them feeling helpless, as they have less experience in dealing with difficulties. Keep in mind the coping strategies above, and talk with your child to help them to process what is causing their stress. Additional ways you can help your child cope are:

  • Maintain a normal routine—familiarity helps to provide a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Give your child opportunities to talk, but don’t force them. Listen to what their thoughts, feelings, and worries are, and share some of yours. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with them to see how they feel after a week, a month, or more.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any changes in behavior, including sleeping, eating, and connecting with friends. Even small changes may indicate your child is having trouble dealing with stress.
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being, particularly if the stress is caused by a traumatic event.
  • Connect with others—your child’s teachers and other parents may have additional suggestions on how to help your child cope.
  • Promote a growth mindset. If your child is stressed about their grades or school work, developing a growth mindset can help. Research indicatesthat while many students’ stress levels increase after receiving a bad grade, students who believe that intelligence can be developed are more likely to see academic setbacks as temporary, they stress less over a bad grade, and they return to normal stress levels more quickly afterwards.

What Schools Can Do

Teachers and other school personnel see students almost as much as their families during the week, so they may also notice children exhibiting signs of stress. In addition, some student stress may stem from poor academic performance, bullying, or other stressful situations related to school (e.g., worries about safety after news coverage of a school shooting). Here’s how schools can help students cope with stress:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities for students to talk, but don’t force them. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students talking more or less? Withdrawing from friends? Acting out? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? These changes may be early warning signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom schedule can provide reassurance and promote a sense of stability and safety.
  • Take care of yourself. You can better support students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first.

Resources

If you need to reach out for extra support or immediate help, contact one of the following crisis hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
  • Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (coping with stress)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

School Health Webinar Series—Programs, Fundraisers, and More

Action for Healthy Kids, a long-time partner of the Illinois PTA, has an ongoing webinar series focusing on school health issues. There are three live webinars scheduled for this year so far, and past webinars are available as recordings. The live webinars will also be archived for those unable to attend in real-time, so be sure to register even if you can’t attend live to be able to view the recording.

Upcoming Webinars

Game On: Your One-Stop Shop for School Health(September 26, 2018, 2:00pm-2:45pm)

It’s the beginning of a new school year, which means it’s time to get your Game On! Action for Healthy Kids’ Game On program is a no-cost, step-by-step online guide that serves as your one-stop shop for school health. Game On provides all the information and resources you need to build a healthy school. Join this webinar to learn how to use Game On to build a strong school wellness program this year. School staff, parents, health professionals and other community members are encouraged to attend.

Take Action to Improve Health with the School Health Index(October 11, 2018, 2:00pm-2:45pm)

How does your school determine what to prioritize around student health and wellness? Action for Healthy Kids recommends using the School Health Index to assess your school’s health environment to determine what you’re doing well and where you could improve. Attend this webinar to learn about the School Health Index, how to use Action for Healthy Kids’ school portal to complete the assessment online and how to make the most of the summary reports generated by our technology to improve school and student health. School and district staff, parents and community members are encouraged to attend this webinar.

School Breakfast: Menu Options for Alternative Breakfast Models(January 10, 2019, 3:00pm-3:45pm)

How does your school determine what to prioritize around student health and wellness? Action for Healthy Kids recommends using the School Health Index to assess your school’s health environment to determine what you’re doing well and where you could improve. Attend this webinar to learn about the School Health Index, how to use Action for Healthy Kids’ school portal to complete the assessment online and how to make the most of the summary reports generated by our technology to improve school and student health. School and district staff, parents and community members are encouraged to attend this webinar.

Archived Webinars

Healthy Snacking (30 minutes)

Spice up your snacking routine with fun and healthy snacks for all ages. Learn about easy, healthy snacks you can serve during or after school and as part of school celebrations.

Family and Community Engagement 101: Maximizing Volunteers for School Health (60 minutes)

To make the most out of your school health programs, it’s essential to make the most out of your family and community volunteers and partners. This webinar prepares you on how to best use the parent and community volunteers you already have, and how to find the best volunteers to meet your school health needs.

School Digs! Raising the Bar and Profits with Healthy School Fundraisers (60 minutes)

Whether it’s the cafeteria, playground, classroom or another area on your campus, kids need to get the same message everywhere: Be active and eat healthy! This webinar is designed to show you where campuses can improve and make sure that kids are getting the right message about healthy eating and being active. Create healthier school parties, offer healthier rewards, or host a healthy non-food fundraiser. Hosted by Parents for Healthy Kids.

Helping Kids Learn Better with Healthy School Meals (60 minutes)

Learn how national school meal programs work and how parents and community members can deepen support, trust and meaningful collaboration with nutrition services staff to create healthier school food environments. For parents, school wellness champions and school health teams.

Yoga in the Classroom (30 minutes)

Use simple yoga-based movements and practices to increase physical fitness, student focus and academic performance! For teachers and champions for active kids.

Healthcare Transition Toolkit for Children with Disabilities

If you have a child with a disability, you have probably become very familiar with navigating and supporting their health care needs over the years. However, once your child turns 18, health laws turn much of the responsibility of that care over to your child. Youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities often face a variety of barriers in accessing and managing their health care when they reach adulthood. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has created a comprehensive toolkit called Transition to Adulthood: A Health Care Guide for Youth and Families.

The toolkit does not focus just on those young adults on the autism spectrum, and many of the tools in the kit are of use to any family. The toolkit provides information on:

  • How to choose a source of health care coverage
  • How to create a health care support network
  • How to integrate health care transition goals into individual educational plans (IEPs), beginning in middle or high school
  • How to manage their own health care

The toolkit also provides guides and worksheets for keeping track of health care records, making doctor’s appointments, and talking to doctors about health concerns. Health care services and supports are often plentiful for children, but lacking for adults. Use the toolkit to help prepare your child for managing with their health care needs in adulthood.