KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – It is a terrifying disease, especially because there is no cure, and doctors say this is the season for acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.
KCTV5 News first met to Billy Sticklen four years ago. The 13-year-old Joplin boy had just gotten over a cold when things took a turn no one saw coming.
“I went to give someone my angry stare, but what happened instead, my neck muscles were so weak, I went..,” Sticklen said to KCTV5 News in 2015.
And things got even worse from there.
"At the very worst, the only movement I had was hands," Sticklen said
Sticklen was one of the first kids in the metro doctors diagnosed with AFM. It is similar to polio, leaving young patients paralyzed.
Researchers have been tracking the disease since 2014. Since then, nearly 600 children in 48 states have been diagnosed. Some have died and nearly all of them started off with a simple cold.
Researchers like Dr Barbara Pahud have zeroed in on a strain of enterovirus, though not all children who get the virus develop AFM, and no one knows why.
“To see if there is something, genetically speaking, that once you get infected, you are more likely to have this neurological problem versus a kid that doesn’t. Or is it simply related to the virus and it’s just bad luck, we don’t know the answer to that yet,” Pahud said.
AFM appears to hit hard every other year. This year, while there will be confirmed cases, it’s likely nothing compared to next year. So far, AFM hits on even years. The number of total cases continues to climb.
“What is happening that we’re seeing more of this disease now? Are we better at picking it up or did something change in epidemiology of humans or how we get infected? We’re still working to try to solve those problems and questions,” Pahud said.
Doctors warn parents not to panic and say cases, while on the rise, are still rare. As for Sticklen? He’s doing better, but he like so many other patients continue to live with lots of questions.