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Five Washington children hospitalized with mysterious polio-like illness

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Five children in Western Washington are in the hospital with a mysterious polio-like illness that causes paralysis in arms and legs.

The Washington State Department of Health said Wednesday it was investigating the cases of possible acute flaccid myelitis.

All of the cases involve infants or children under the age of six.

Officials said all of them had symptoms of a respiratory illness the week before they developed symptoms of AFM. And four of the children had a fever of at least 100.4 degrees.

Two cases were reported in King County and one each in Pierce, Lewis and Snohomish counties.

The Department of Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm if the children have AFM.

“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. “We’re working closely with medical providers and public health agencies. We’ll continue to investigate and share information when we have it.”

The Department of Health issued the health notice on Wednesday:

The children are being evaluated for AFM, a rare condition that 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. AFM can cause a range of types and severity of symptoms, but the commonality among them is a loss of strength or movement in one or more arms or legs. The cause of any individual case of AFM can be hard to determine, and often, no cause is found. CDC specialists will make the final determination if these cases are AFM.

Some viruses and germs have been 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 possibly by non-infectious conditions.

While there are no specific recommendations for avoiding AFM, you can help protect yourself from some of its known causes by: washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with sick people, and cleaning surfaces with a disinfectant, especially those that a sick person has touched. Staying update on recommended immunizations is also important to avoiding vaccine preventable illnesses.

There was a cluster of nine cases of AFM in Washington state back in 2016 and three cases last year. One case was reported earlier this year.

Nationwide, 38 people in 16 states have been diagnosed with AFM this year -- most of the cases involve children.