Washington child the latest in the state suspected of having polio-like illness

Clark County Public Health is working with local health care providers and Washington State Department of Health to investigate a suspected case of acute flaccid myelitis, AFM, in a Clark County child.

The child, who is younger than 6, was hospitalized for sudden onset of paralysis in one arm. The child had symptoms of respiratory illness and fever prior to developing symptoms of AFM. The child is improving. Lab specimens and diagnostic images have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation of AFM.

The possible Clark County case is one of 11 recent AFM cases the state Department of Health is investigating. The investigation includes nine confirmed cases and two suspected cases.

Clark County did have one confirmed AFM case earlier this year that is not part of the current investigation. That case was also a child younger than 6 who was hospitalized for sudden onset of paralysis.

AFM is 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. Symptoms can vary in severity and range from mild weakness of a limb to absence of movement in all limbs.

There is no single known cause of AFM. Some viruses and germs have been linked to AFM, including common germs that can cause colds and sore throats, and respiratory infections. AFM 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. It’s unclear why some people develop AFM while others do not.

While there are no specific recommendations for avoiding AFM, you can help protect yourself from some of its possible causes by:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people
  • Cleaning surfaces with disinfectant, especially surfaces a sick person has touched
  • Staying up to date on recommended immunizations