AFM is a neurological condition that is thought to be brought on by a virus that targets children’s spinal cords (directly or indirectly). The attack leads to limb and muscle weakness and sometimes long-term disability or paralysis.
Several enteroviruses – but primarily EV-D68 – are believed to trigger the disease.
The disease, which ahas been likened to polio, has a tendency to peak every other year.
Its last spike in cases was in 2018, when 238 people were diagnosed across the United States, the CDC said.
This year the disease is likely to spike again, but its treatment will be more complicated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to reporters, Dr Thomas Clark, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases, said: “AFM is a priority for CDC as we prepare for a possible outbreak this year.
“We are concerned that, in the midst of a COVID pandemic, that cases might not be recognised as AFM, or we are concerned that parents might be worried about taking their child to the doctor if they develop something as serious as limb weakness.”
The CDC published results of a study done after the last outbreak in 2018.
It put almost all the affected children into the hospital and patients were 5 years old on average.
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Dr Clark said parents and doctors need to act quickly if children experience any limb weakness or pain after an infection.
He urges to take the patient to the hospital immediately, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.
Doctors can assess if there is a chance it is AFM and swifter treatment might help patients recover better, the CDC said.
CDC experts said: “Enteroviruses, particularly EV-D68, are likely responsible for the increase in cases every two years since 2014.
“AFM is a medical emergency and patients must be hospitalised and monitored in case they progress to respiratory failure.”
Another virus called EV-A71 is also believed to trigger AFM in some cases.
CDC experts said: ”Multiple viruses, including West Nile virus, adenovirus, and non-polio enteroviruses, are known to cause AFM in a small percentage of infected persons.”
Enteroviruses are common and cause about 10 million to 15 million infections a year in the United States, according to the CDC.
Symptoms caused by enteroviruses include fever, runny nose and body aches, but patients tend to recover easily.
Dr Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, said: “It is not known how the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures may affect the circulation of viruses that can cause AFM, or if COVID-19 will impact the health care system’s ability to promptly recognise and respond to AFM.
“If social distancing measures decrease circulation of enteroviruses this year, AFM cases may be fewer than expected or the outbreak may be delayed.”