Officials: Take precautions to avoid polio-like virus

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SMITHFIELD — Acute flaccid myelitis, the polio-like virus that has paralyzed hundreds of children across the country, including one in Charlotte, has not appeared yet in Johnston County.

Health Director Dr. Marilyn Pearson, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t know what’s causing AFM.

“The CDC is concerned that it’s being communicated by a particular type of virus, but that hasn’t yet been confirmed,” said Pearson. “Most of the cases, 94 percent, are children, but it can affect adults as well.”

The CDC said AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, causing weakness in one or more limbs. Symptoms can include facial droop or weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids or difficulty swallowing or slurred speech. There is no specific treatment for AFM.

“We asking health care providers to report any cases to our office or the North Carolina Division of Public Health,” said Pearson. “We’re trying to get information to the public to promote health and prevent disease. Keep your immunizations up to date, wash your hands often, stay away from those who are sick and take precautions against mosquito bites.”

Pearson said AFM isn’t common and that there’s a one in a million chance of contracting it.

North Carolina charted two cases of AFM in 2014, no cases in 2015, four cases in 2016, no cases in 2017 and one confirmed and two probable cases reported thus far this year.

Another crisis closer to home is the opioid epidemic.

“We’re working together as a task force to combat the opioid crisis in Johnston County,” said Pearson. “Law enforcement, EMS and others in the community are trained to respond with the nalaxone antidote.”

Pearson said there’s been an increase in heroin and fentanyl abuse.

“Johnston Health emergency room data indicates an increase in heroin overdoses,” said Pearson. “There are situations where overdose victims are treated multiple times. We want them to have the opportunity for rehab and recovery. “

The health department has developed various programs, said Pearson, to respond to the community’s needs.

“We have a large number of diabetics in Johnston County,” said Pearson. “The biggest issues with diabetics are inactivity, being overweight and obese. But with those who are overweight, it’s not just diabetes that’s a concern, there’s also heart disease.”

Environmental health is another issue handled by the health department. That includes inspections of restaurants, day care centers, schools, food trucks for festivals and hotels and motels.

“When we go to restaurants, we’re looking at whether or not foods are being stored at the right temperatures, the condition of the kitchen and bathrooms,” said Pearson. “The inspection sheets are online on the health department’s website.”

Pearson had served as health director for 20 years when the new health department building opened.

“I enjoy it because every day is different,” said Pearson. “I enjoy seeing patients, working with community groups and working on the state level to take care of people both in Johnston County and across the state.”