The Washington State Department of Health is leading a joint investigation into reports of eight children who were admitted to Seattle Children's Hospital with acute neurologic illnesses.
The cause of the October 31 death of Jonathan Daniel Ramirez Porter, known as Daniel, is still under investigation, but officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ruled out AFM, a neurological illness that causes limb weakness and lesions on the spinal cord.
Officials said the children arrived with their symptoms and did not acquire AFM at the hospital.
There were no cases of AFM reported in Washington State a year ago, in 2014 there were two.
Like polio, AFM affects the body's nervous system - specifically the spinal cord - and can cause lifelong paralysis.
Scientists are working to determine the exact cause of the AFM, but they do know its not contagious.
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Complicating matters is that doctors aren't sure how to treat a child once acute flaccid myelitis is present. "Symptoms include limb weakness, facial drooping and difficulty swallowing and talking". In particular, there's a wide spectrum of muscle weakness, ranging from mild weakness in a single limb to nearly complete paralysis in all four limbs, or a loss of the ability to breathe on one's own.
A number of germs and viruses are linked to AFM.
While it's normal to take care of children at home with fluids, rest and relaxation for illnesses that appear to be a common cold or slight fever, parents should take their children to a healthcare provider at the first sign of muscle weakness, Messacar advises.
"We understand this condition better than we did in 2014, but there's still a lot to learn", he said. The CDC makes the final determination regarding whether cases are classified as AFM or not. Since September 2016, there have been 89 cases of AFM in 33 states across the U.S.so far this year. That means being up to date on all your vaccines, including polio.
For more information on AFM, visit the CDC website.
In the meantime, Patel encourages practicing "general prevention strategies": washing your hands with soap and water, getting vaccinated and preventing mosquito bites.