Health

Ninth Child Diagnosed With Mysterious Illness

| by Sarah Zimmerman

Nine Washington children have come down with a rare, mysterious illness with symptoms resembling polio. At least one child has died.

Doctors hypothesize the affected children have acute flaccid myelitis, a rare disease affecting the spinal cord. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the disease can lead to sudden weakness in one or more limbs as well as facial weakness and difficulty swallowing. It often leads to permanent paralysis.

The CDC is currently working with Washington officials to figure out why such a large cluster of children have contracted disease in the area, according to The Seattle Times. The children affected range in age from 3 to 14. While some live in the same county, others live almost across the state. 

"There’s nothing that points to an individual cause for any of the cases or a link between the cases," Julie Graham, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Health, told The Seattle Times.

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Like polio, AFM affects the body's nervous system. There is currently no cure, notes CNN. AFM is not contagious and the exact cause of the illness remains unknown, with scientists thinking its a byproduct of a viral infection. 

"What we saw ... is that the majority of children had a fever and a respiratory illness," pediatric infectious disease physician Kevin Messacar told CNN. "Five days later, they would develop pain in the arms and legs, and weakness followed."

AFM is more commonly found during the latter half of the year. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there have been 89 confirmed cases of the disease in 33 different states. Thirty-seven of these cases were reported in September.

"CDC is always concerned when there is a serious illness that is affecting the public, especially when it's affecting children," said Dr. Manisha Patel, AFM team leader at the CDC. "We're looking closely at what might be causing this and what might put someone at risk for AFM."

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As there is little information on the disease's origin, Patel advises parents to practice "general prevention measures," like making sure that their children wash their hands with soap and water and be sure to get their flu shot. 

"We understand this condition better than we did in 2014, but there's still a lot to learn," Dr. Kevin Messacar, a pediatric infectious disease physician and researcher at Children's Hospital Colorado, told CNN. "The process is slow, but progress is being made."

Sources: The Seattle Times, CDC, CNN / Photo credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/Flickr

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