Federal and state health officials are looking into what could be a cluster of a very rare disorder of the nervous system after multiple children have been hospitalized after contracting symptoms that include generalized weakness and loss of movement in at least one of their limbs, ABC News is reporting.
Eight kids in the state of Washington have recently reported having symptoms that coincide with a rare condition known as acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. It affects the nervous system – the spinal cord, in particular – and is linked to various causes, including the virus that leads to polio.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts, along with others with the Washington State Health Department, are currently evaluating the children and have not said with certainty that their symptoms point to AFM. They are working to find the “exact cause” of the illnesses, so other causes are also being looked at, officials with the state agency have said.
“None of them have been confirmed or ruled out,” said department spokeswoman Julie Graham, in an interview with the network’s news division.
Dr. Scott Lindquist, a state infectious disease epidemiologist at the Department of Health, has added in a recent statement: “At this point there isn’t evidence that would point to a single source of illness among these cases.”
Increasing number of cases in recent years
All of the children, who are between the ages of 3 and 14, reported to healthcare providers weakness and a loss of strength or movement in at least one limb. Three of the children remained hospitalized as of this writing, while five have been released, state health officials said.
One of the causes of AFM can be viral, and as such officials at the Seattle Children’s Hospital have taken additional steps to minimize infection risks among patients there. Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, chief medical officer at the hospital, said in a statement that patient safety is the facility’s top concern, and that it remains safe for parents to bring their kids there.
“We are following our standard infection control protocols, including putting patients with symptoms of active respiratory infections in isolation so they do not have contact with any other patients,” the statement said.
Federal health officials with the CDC were already investigating additional cases of AFM in the United States, ABC News reported. At least 50 cases were reported by August, compared to just 21 cases in all of 2015.
However, in 2014, 120 cases of AFM were reported between the months of August and December, and that time the CDC believed that a virus called enterovirus D68 may have been responsible. That particular virus spread rapidly in 2014 and infected scores of children, with some developing AFM. However, the CDC has not “consistently detected a pathogen” in the spinal fluid of infected patients, which has made it extremely difficult to pinpoint.
Anyone can contract the illness
One child, 6-year-old Daniel Ramirez of Bellingham, was on his death bed shortly after he was admitted to Seattle Children’s Hospital. In an interview with ABC affiliate KOMO, his parents said he became completely paralyzed and had to be placed on life support.
His mother, Marijo de Guzman, said Daniel came home from school one day a few weeks ago with a fever and no appetite. She said initially, she just treated him like he was coming down with a cold or the flu.
But his symptoms quickly got worse.
“When we got to the hospital, from basically within a couple of hours he was basically paralyzed,” his father, Jose Ramirez, told KOMO.
According to the CDC’s website, anyone can contract AFM. The agency has said that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 89 people in 33 states have been confirmed to have contracted AFM.