BOZEMAN – We’ve all been there — sniffling and sneezing from the symptoms of the common cold.
But imagine going to the doctor and finding out what you are dealing with is much worse — a rare disease. That’s what happened to Bozeman High School principal Kevin Conwell.
Conwell recently announced he is resigning at the end of January due to contracting acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) and questions remain about the illness and how concerned the public should be.
“Acute flaccid myelitis is a very rare neurological disorder in which specific sections of the spinal cord are attacked by some type of inflammatory or destructive process,” Bozeman Health Neurologist Richard Popwell said.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department has confirmed two cases of AFM in Gallatin County.
According to Popwell, in the past four years, there have been less than 1,000 cases of AFM nationwide. It was first discovered in 2014 and is typically found in children. The cause of this condition is unknown.
“Research to date has suggested, but not confirmed, that there may be an association of acute flaccid myelitis with certain subtypes of viruses, specifically the class of viruses that are known as intro viruses,” Popwell said. “The irony being, is that polio is also an intro virus and we just so happen to have a vaccination for that.”
AFM can be fatal if it’s not recognized quickly. In Conwell’s case, he believed it was just a common cold. Popwell said symptoms include weakness in the arms and legs, numbness, and possibly even bladder changes.
“It’s usually predominately weakness, and it will come on slowly in the context of flu-like syndrome or flu-like illness, and it will typically progress over days if not weeks to where it can become quite severe,” he said.
There currently is no medication to treat the condition and treatment is in supportive care.
Popwell says the best way to prevent AFM is minimizing your contact with sick people and washing your hands frequently.
While Conwell continues to recover, anyone wishing to send a card or letter of support can turn them in at the Bozeman High School main office.