An Analysis of Risk Communication Surrounding Increases in a Polio-like Condition in the U.S.


In 2014, CDC started receiving an increase in reports of children in the United States with unexplained limb weakness or paralysis (120 total cases). These children were later confirmed by neurology experts to have a rare condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists created a standardized case definition for AFM in 2015, allowing CDC to establish standardized surveillance to monitor AFM, determine possible causes and risk factors, and attempt to estimate the baseline incidence. Through this surveillance, CDC identified another increase in AFM cases in 2016 (149 total cases), and obtained valuable information on the clinical presentation to help characterize this illness and the epidemiology of AFM. However, despite the ongoing investigation, many questions still remain about AFM, including why the increases occurred and what has caused most of the AFM cases. The lack of AFM knowledge has made preventing AFM, finding effective treatments for patients, and developing communication messages challenging.

Objective: To assess the type, tone, consistency, and accuracy of communications surrounding a rare polio-like condition called acute flaccid myelitis between 2014-2017 from from CDC, other health agencies, researchers, news media outlets, and the public.

Primary Topic Areas: 
Original Publication Year: 
Event/Publication Date: 
January, 2019

June 18, 2019

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