By Kathy Walsh
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– The Department of Health in Washington State is investigating a growing cluster of polio-like illness in children. It is the same illness seen in alarming numbers in Colorado in 2014.
Two of nine suspected cases in Washington are confirmed as a rare condition known as acute flaccid myelitis or AFM. One child there has died.
Six-year-old Daniel Ramirez died over the weekend. At this point, his is not one of the two confirmed AFM cases. AFM is a condition that affects the nervous system. It is characterized by a sudden weakness in the arms or legs.
“For us to have a cluster of nine that could be potentially AFM, it’s very concerning,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Communicable Disease Epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health.
Gracie Fisher was paralyzed by AFM back in 2014.
“I began to feel a tingling in my hands and a pain in my neck. Within five minutes, I couldn’t walk,” the 19-year-old told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh last month.
Fisher was visiting Craig Hospital in Englewood where she’s undergone rehabilitation.
In all, there were 120 cases of AFM in the United States in 2014. Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora treated 12 of them.
“We called the CDC in to investigate,” said Dr. Kevin Messacar, a pediatric infectious disease physician and researcher at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Dr. Messacar and other doctors at Children’s were the first to notice in 2014 that the increase in AFM cases coincided with a widespread outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). That virus has been circulating recently.
“Though not completely proven, there is a lot of supportive evidence to suggest an association between enterovirus D68 and acute flaccid myelitis cases,” said Messacar.
But Messacar cautions there are many viruses that have the potential to cause AFM.
The CDC says as of September, 89 people in 33 states were confirmed to have AFM this year. That’s up from 21 cases last year. Doctors say AFM usually peaks in late summer/early fall, so cases should be declining.
The CDC says it’s always important to practice disease prevention steps, like washing your hands, staying up-to-date on vaccines, and protecting yourself from mosquito bites.