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Doctors Still Confused By Child Cases of Polio-Like Virus

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Doctors Still Confused By Child Cases of Polio-Like Virus
Nine Washington state children were hospitalized with a mysterious disease that has polio-like symptoms. On November 4, 2016, The Seattle Times reported that eight of the children have been diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) (1).Unfortunately, one of the nine children died on October 31 after being admitted to the hospital 16 days earlier. Six-year-old Jonathan “Daniel” Ramirez Porter of Bellingham in Whatcom County was taken to the hospital after a sudden onset of “vomiting, a high fever and other symptoms”. (2)

Seattle Times reported that Daniel’s grandmother confirmed the little boy had been on life support days leading up to his death.

According to Seattle Times, the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “definitely ruled out AFM” as the cause of Daniel’s illness and subsequent death. The state and federal agencies are still investigating what could have been the onset and cause of his illness.

Children Struck Ill

The other eight children, ranging in ages 3 to 14, have been confirmed to be suffering from AFM. This is “a neurological illness that causes limb weakness and specific types of lesions on the spinal cord.”

The cluster of cases have so far been found in five Washington state counties that include:

  • Franklin County
  • King County
  • Pierce County
  • Snohomish County
  • Whatcom County

The Bellingham Herald reported that the children became ill within a six-week period. Each child suffered sudden weakness either in an arm or leg or both. To date, none of these cases seem to have any commonality, such as illnesses or infections. The Washington State Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Graham stated the children also don’t appear to share any common links. With no apparent cause of the illness, the CDC and health department are still searching for that common link (3).

The Bellingham Herald quoted the Department of Health infectious disease epidemiologist Scott Lindquist as saying the next step in the investigation will be “an in-depth interview with each of these children and their families.”

Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM)

Section 3 textAccording to the CDC website, Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) affects the nervous system, targeting the spinal cord. There are several viral infections that can attack the nervous system (4).


Along with the sudden limb weakness there can also be muscle tone loss as well as reflexes either decreased or absent. Along with these conditions, the patient can experience arm or leg pain or numbness, although these symptoms are rare.

It’s been noted in some cases, the facial and head muscles can be affected with the same kind of weakness. This can directly affect drooping eyes and make swallowing very difficult.

According to ABC News, “many viruses and germs are linked” to AFM. Surprisingly, those germs can be as simple as the ones responsible for “common colds, sore throats and respiratory infections”. Viruses, such as poliovirus and non-polio enteroviruses, autoimmune conditions and even mosquito transmitted viruses, such as Zika or West Nile virus have been linked to AFM (5).

zika virus

Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific treatments for AFM. The CDC states that a brain and spinal cord specialist (neurologist) works with individuals on a case-by-case basis to prescribe various interventions that may help.

Five Children Released from Hospital

Of the eight children admitted to the hospital, five have been released. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital’s pediatric neurologist Jim Owens, the condition of all eight children is non-life-threatening. Due to privacy laws, no other information was available about the treatments being given to the children.

The CDC website advises, “If you or your child is having problems walking or standing, or develop sudden weakness in an arm or leg, you should contact a doctor right away.” Hand-washing to prevent the spread of other germs and viruses is one of the best preventative measures families can take.

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