Health Officials Investigate Cluster of Unidentified Neurological Illness

Seattle Children’s Hospital(SEATTLE) — One child has died after reportedly developing mysterious neurological symptoms, according to the Washington State Health Department.

The child’s death was reported as officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the state health department, continue to investigate a potential disease cluster first identified when eight children were hospitalized with neurological symptoms of unknown origin.

The children in Washington State were hospitalized at Seattle Children’s Hospital after developing symptoms including weakness or loss of movement in one or more of their limbs. Five of the children were released from the hospital, two remain hospitalized and one died after developing the symptoms, the Washington State Health Department said Monday. The family said the child died on Sunday.

Due to the nature of the symptoms authorities are investigating if they have identified a cluster of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). The syndrome is a rare condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord. It can occur to various causes including viral infections.

“CDC is examining the case reports to determine possible causes, risk factors, and commonalities of these cases. We understand parents may be concerned about AFM, a rare but serious condition that has been affecting primarily children,” a spokesman for the CDC said in a statement.

Experts at the CDC as well as the Washington State Health Department are still evaluating if these children’s symptoms point to AFM as an “exact cause” and other conditions are being investigated as well. Since AFM is often caused by a variety of viruses, officials are looking to see if any viral infections in the area may have led to the cluster.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the goal will be to definitively diagnose the children with AFM then search for a potential cause.

“The first thing the investigators will do, they will look at clinical records to see if they fit the CDC definition of AFM,” Schaffner said. “They will simultaneously go to all of these patients and make sure that they have the best possible specimens to be sent to lab to establish viral diagnosis.”

If the child who died had signs of viral infection, it may help the CDC figure out if other children are at risk for developing AFM, Schaffner said.

“They will look to see if they find evidence of the virus in the nervous tissue,” Scahffner explained.

In 2014, dozens of children developed AFM around the time an outbreak of a respiratory virus called enterovirus D68 started to spread through the country. In general, certain enteroviruses, such as the polio virus, increase the risk that patients will develop AFM. However, after the 2014 enterovirus D68 outbreak, the CDC has not “consistently detected a pathogen” in the spinal fluid of infected patients that linked the virus to AFM cases.

The CDC was already investigating an increase of AFM cases in the U.S., with at least 50 cases reported by last August compared to 21 cases in all of 2015. In 2014, 120 cases of AFM were reported throughout the U.S. just between August and December. At the time, the CDC and other health agencies were investigating the enterovirus D68.

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