The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that eight of the nine suspected cases of an alarming neurologic illness that paralyzes children are acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).
However, Daniel Ramirez, a 6-year-old from Bellingham who died at Seattle Children’s Hospital on Monday, did not have AFM, the federal agency confirmed.
The eight remaining cases include two children from Franklin County. Investigators have found nothing to link the victims, who currently are not in life-threatening condition, said health officials.
One of the cases may be a Pasco High School marching band student. A gofundme.com account for the 14-year-old said he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis after being flown to Seattle Children’s Oct. 12 after he lost the ability to walk. AFM is a variant of transverse myelitis.
The account said his parents took him to a Tri-City hospital three times. When tests confirmed a high white cell count in his spinal cord, he was flown to Seattle. He is unable to move his right side. His parents remain with him.
The person who created the account could not be reached to confirm the account that already has raised $2,100 and there was no way Friday to independently verify if it is authentic. Health officials are releasing limited information to protect patient privacy.
It is unclear if the children suffering from AFM will make full recoveries, said Dr. James Owens, a Seattle Children’s physician who discussed the status of the baffling cluster of cases during a Washington Department of Health media briefing Friday afternoon.
The condition is characterized by a sudden weakness in one or more arms or legs, along with loss of muscle tone and decreased or absent reflexes.
Numbness or other physical symptoms are rare, although some patients may have pain in their arms or legs.
All of the children were admitted to Seattle Children’s but they did not contract it there, the state affirmed.
“It is absolutely safe to bring your child to Children’s Hospital for care,” Owens said.
The symptoms are not subtle. You don’t have to look hard for it.
Dr. James Owens, Seattle Children’s Hospital
Officials say that while the exact mechanism that causes AFM is unclear, the symptoms are not. It appears to be the result of exposure to common viruses and germs that in turn inflame the spinal cord. Children may present common cold or flu-like symptoms, but the sudden onset of paralysis that is the tip-off.
“The symptoms are not subtle. You don’t have to look hard for it,” Owens said.
The disease is formally confirmed by CDC neurologists who look for specific markers on patients’ MRI scans. It is highly unusual. Washington had two confirmed cases in 2014 and none in 2015. While a cluster of eight is alarming, it is not the largest cluster recorded, state officials said.
Owens counseled that good hygiene and health practices can help prevent the frightening disease. Excellent hygiene, frequent hand washing and getting a flu shot are important steps.
“Many viruses and germs are linked to AFM, including common germs that can cause colds and sore throats, and respiratory infections,” said the state. “It can also be caused by poliovirus and non-polio enteroviruses, mosquito-borne viruses (such as West Nile Virus or Zika virus) and autoimmune conditions.”
In some cases, dysfunction of the nerves controlling the head and neck, resulting in such features as facial weakness, difficulty swallowing, or drooping of the eyes, may accompany the limb weakness.
The CDC has more information about the illness at bit.ly/AFMinfo.