- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - After eight children in Washington state were hospitalized for acute neurological illnesses, health officials are trying to determine whether the illnesses could be an extremely rare syndrome that causes varying degrees of paralysis similar to polio.

The children, ranging in age from 3 to 14, all had a loss of strength or movement in one or more arms or legs with a range of types and severity of symptoms, The Seattle Times reported (https://goo.gl/OPmo9g).

Doctors have emphasized that the syndrome is not contagious.

“This is not something that’s contagious in the way polio’s contagious,” Dr. Jim Owens, a pediatric neurologist at Seattle Children’s hospital told the newspaper. “It’s a body’s response to common infections. It’s a really rare thing.”

Three of the children are currently hospitalized at Seattle Children’s, and five have been released. The first case was seen in mid-September. An adult case was recorded in the spring.

The syndrome, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), affects the nervous system - specifically the spinal cord - and can affect both children and adults.

The Washington cases have not been confirmed as AFM, but are being investigated as such.

The exact cause of AFM is unknown, according to the state Department of Health. Many viruses and germs are linked to the syndrome, including common germs that can cause colds.

The health department is investigating with Public Health - Seattle & King County, Seattle Children’s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“At this point there isn’t evidence that would point to a single source of illness among these cases,” Dr. Scott Lindquist, state infectious disease epidemiologist at the state Department of Health, said in a statement. He said the investigation, however, is just getting underway.

The CDC says 50 confirmed cases of AFM have been reported this year in 24 states, although it did not identify the states.

In Washington, three of the children are from King County, one is from Pierce County, two are from Franklin County, and two are from Whatcom County. Their ages range from 3 to 14.

Owens said the degree of recovery from AFM is “variable,” but that in general, patients do not fully recover from it.

Patients come in with weakness in their limbs, and an MRI will typically reveal inflammation in the spinal cord, he said. Doctors treat it with drugs that decrease inflammation, such as steroids.

He said children who have the syndrome have a noticeably significant weakness in a limb, and it develops quickly, in hours or a day.

“We’re not talking about just a little bit of weakness; we’re talking about not moving their arm at all,” Owens said. “This is extremely uncommon, and the symptoms are not subtle.”

On its website, the CDC has expressed concern about the increase of incidents in 2016 but they’ve only been tracking them since 2014, when 21 cases were reported. The CDC said awareness among health care providers may be one reason for the uptick.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com

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