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acute flaccid myelitis

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system. It is characterized by a sudden weakness in one or more arms or legs, along with loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Since 2012, there have been increases in AFM cases noted in the late summer and fall every two years. Most cases occur in young children, and over 90% of the patients experience a mild respiratory illness and/or fever consistent with a viral infection prior to developing AFM. AFM has been linked to a variety of viruses including enteroviruses, such as enterovirus D68 and enterovirus A71. 

Even with an increase in cases since 2012, AFM remains a very rare condition. Less than one to two in a million people in the United States get AFM each year.


Most patients will have sudden onset of limb weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes. Some patients may also experience:

  • facial droop/weakness
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping eyelids, or
  • difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

If you or your child develops any of these symptoms, you should seek medical care right away.    


Although a viral cause is suspected, it is still unknown why some people develop AFM. There is no specific action to take to prevent AFM. However, it is always important to practice disease prevention steps, such as washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.

To learn more about AFM, visit the CDC Acute Flaccid Myelitis website

For Health Care Providers

Clinicians are encouraged to maintain vigilance for cases of AFM among all age groups. CDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct enhanced viral testing and surveillance for patients with AFM. Collecting specimens as soon as AFM is suspected can help increase the chance that potential pathogens can be detected. If you are aware of a patient who meets the clinical and imaging criteria below, please complete the following steps (detailed instructions are also provided in the AFM Quicksheet (PDF). Clinicians may also schedule a consult with neurologists specializing in AFM by contacting the nationwide AFM Physician Consult and Support Portal.

  1. Contact the local health department  where the patient resides to determine whether the patient meets criteria for AFM testing.

  2. Submit the AFM Patient Case Summary Form AND medical records listed on the form to the patient's local health department.

  3. Obtain approval from the local health department for specimen testing.*

  4. After approval has been received, submit specimens with a completed General Purpose Specimen Submittal Form to the CDPH Viral and Rickettsial Diseases Laboratory. 

*Local health departments will contact CDPH and to receive approval for testing.


Clinical and Imaging Criteria for AFM Testing:

  1. An illness onset of acute flaccid**limb weakness, AND:

    • A magnetic resonance image (MRI) showing spinal cord lesion in at least some gray matter and spanning one or more spinal segments^, AND

    • Excluding persons with gray matter lesions^ in the spinal cord resulting from physician diagnosed malignancy, vascular disease, or anatomic abnormalities.

** Low muscle tone, limp, hanging loosely, not spastic or contracted.
^ Normal or negative MRI imaging within the first 72 hours of limb weakness onset does not rule out AFM.

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