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6-year-old boy dies of rare mystery disease spreading in Wash. state

Daniel Ramirez, 6, is seen in a family photo.

SEATTLE - A mysterious illness that hospitalized several local children has now turned deadly.

A 6-year-old boy who has been treated for the disease for more than two weeks passed away Sunday night.

The boy, 6-year-old Daniel Ramirez of Bellingham, was one of eight children being treated at Seattle Children's Hospital for a disease that has baffled medical staff.

KOMO News spoke to Daniel's parents on Friday, and they said he was sent to the hospital with cold symptoms and dizziness. He was paralyzed within a few hours and never recovered.

Doctors believe Daniel and the other children may have contracted a rare virus known as acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM - but that hasn't yet been confirmed.

There weren't any cases in Washington state last year. There were just two cases in 2014 - including 15-year-old Hayden Werdal. He now needs a wheelchair - but his family is grateful he is improving.

"We thought that Hayden's case was the most severe it could get - paralyzed from the neck down," said Hayden's mom, Heather. "That is scary for us because we didn't think it could (cause death)."

Hayden is one of two children in Washington diagnosed with AFM in 2014. It all started with a cold. Ten days later, symptoms went from serious to severe.

“Within 10 days he was completely paralyzed, on a ventilator, and on a trake. He kept getting sicker. It was a scary time,” said mother Heather Werdal.

Hayen may not ever walk again, but his family hopes he’ll be heading off to college in three years. He recently returned to school for the first time in two years. He’s taking three classes including French, Math, and English. His family realizes the road to recovery will be a long one, but they are hopeful.

“There is no cure for this. We are desperately looking for more research into this,” said Werdal.

The Centers for Disease Control says the agency is investigating a spike in AFM cases. Fifty people have gotten sick in 24 states this year - and it's still unclear how someone gets the virus or exactly what causes it.

Doctors have determined AFM 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. There is no specific treatment for AFM.

The children admitted to Children's are from 3 to 14 years old. Three are from King County, one is from Pierce County, two are from Franklin County and two are from Whatcom County. The cases occurred over the past six weeks.

Staff at Seattle Children's Hospital say they can't comment on the details of Daniel's case because of privacy laws, but they say they expect to hear back from the CDC this week about what could be going on.

Until then, Daniel's family can only mourn the death of a young boy who was healthy and thriving up until a few weeks ago.

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