Health officials investigate 8 cases of kids at Children's with neurological illnesses

Health officials are investigating the cases of eight children who lost strength or movement in one or more arms and legs and were admitted to Seattle Children's Hospital (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- Health officials are investigating the cases of eight children who lost strength or movement in one or more arms and legs and were admitted to Seattle Children's Hospital.

The Washington Health Department is leading a joint investigation with Children's and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is looking into the possibility of a condition known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

There are no confirmed cases of AFM.

AFM is a rare condition. It 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 exact cause of AFM is unknown, health officials said. Many viruses and germs are 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 autoimmune conditions.

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.

Three are still at Children's. The others have been released.

Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, chief medical officer at Seattle Children’s Hospital. said in a news release that the hospital is following "standard infection control protocols, including putting patients with symptoms of active respiratory infections in isolation so they do not have contact with any other patients.”

Health officials say cases of AFM are hard to determine. The CDC will make the final determination.

“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, in news release. “However, this investigation is just getting underway and we’re looking at all possibilities as we try to understand what might have contributed to these illnesses.”

There were no cases of AFM reported in Washington State last year. In 2014 there were two. There have been more than 50 cases of AFM in 24 states across the U.S. so far this year. For more information on AFM, visit the CDC website. A fact sheet about this investigation is on the Department of Health’s website.

Friday night, the Ramirez family from Bellingham came forward to express their deep concern about the mysterious illness. Their 6-year-old boy Daniel was sent to the hospital nearly two weeks ago. It started with cold-like symptoms and quickly escalated.

"He was slurring his words and acting like he was drunk, just drooling everywhere," said mother Marijo De Guzman.

"When we got to the hospital, within in a couple of hours, he was basically paralyzed. He couldn’t move or anything," said father Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez said it's devastating to the family knowing how quickly everything happened.

Daniel just celebrate his birthday a few weeks ago. His family said he's had numerous tests and MRIs done.

Friday, the family got some difficult news.

"We talked to the doctors today and they said it could be AFM or it could be a worse case of AFM. They’re not sure," said De Guzman. "He’s dying. He’s dying. We pretty much got the news today. They can’t help him anymore."

The mysterious illness has transformed little Daniel from a healthy boy who loves Batman and Spiderman and playing video games into a boy who's now fighting for his life.

"Whether my son lives or dies, parents need to know about this," said De Guzman.

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