The Washington State Department of Health is investigating reports of six children who have been hospitalized after a sudden onset of paralysis of one or more limbs. The Department of Health is working with four public health agencies and experts in neurology from the CDC for confirmation of a rare illness known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).
The cases involve infants and children under the age of six who all reportedly had symptoms of a respiratory illness in the week prior to developing symptoms of AFM. All of the cases have been reported on the west side of the state with two children in King County and one child in Pierce County, Lewis County and Snohomish County. An additional possible case of AFM was reported out of Skagit County on Thursday.
The Department of Health is developing a web page to keep the public and media updated. Once this web page is up the link will be added to this news release.
AFM is a rare condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord. Symptoms typically include sudden weakness in one or more arms or legs, along with loss of muscle tone and decreased or absent reflexes. AFM can cause a range of types and severity of symptoms, but the commonality among them is a loss of strength or movement in one or more arms or legs.
Four of the five children had a fever of 100.4 or greater.
"The cause of any individual case of AFM can be hard to determine, and often, no cause is found," the Washington State Department of Health said in a release on Wednesday. "CDC specialists will make the final determination if these cases are AFM."
Some viruses and germs have been linked to AFM, including common germs that can cause colds and sore throats, and respiratory infections. It can also be caused by poliovirus and non-polio enteroviruses, mosquito-borne viruses (such as West Nile virus or Zika virus) and possibly by non-infectious conditions.
“At this point there isn’t evidence that would point to a single source of illness among these cases,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state infectious disease epidemiologist at the Department of Health. “We’re working closely with medical providers and public health agencies. We’ll continue to investigate and share information when we have it.”
"While there are no specific recommendations for avoiding AFM, you can help protect yourself from some of its known causes by: washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with sick people, and cleaning surfaces with a disinfectant, especially those that a sick person has touched," DoH said.
In 2016, there were nine cases of AFM in Washington and three in 2017. Only one case has been confirmed this year, but officials are still investigating the latest possible cases.