Rare illness affecting kids discovered in King, Pierce, Lewis and Snohomish counties

SEATTLE - A rare disease called, acute flaccid myelitis or AFM is getting national attention after an increase in cases across the country. In Washington state, the Department of Health is investigating at least five cases this year that have sent kids to the hospital.

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

The cause of the condition is unknown but the key symptom to look for is weakened limbs and loss of feeling in the arms or legs.

It’s an afternoon at the park for mom Susie Wells and her little ones, she says her kid’s health is her most important priority, so hearing about five children in western Washington with AFM caught her attention.

“It is a little concerning. Anytime there are more than one or two cases in a small region, it is something to pay attention to,” said Wells.

The state department of health says AFM typically happens in kids, and all five cases in western Washington have affected very young children.

“These are all children under five,” said Chas DeBolt, a senior epidemiologist for vaccine-preventable disease at the Department of Health.

DeBolt says AFM seems to come in cycles. Back in 2016, Washington state had 10 cases of AFM. All but one happened around October.

In 2017, three cases and five so far in 2018.

The cause is unclear. “It is something public health across the country is working to understand. The condition is extremely rare. We don’t want people to be afraid but we want people to quickly if you see acute limb weakness,” said DeBolt.

The department of health says the main symptom to look for is a sudden loss of feeling in arms and legs. If parents notice it, they are urged to take their children to the hospital to get checked out immediately.

Debolt says a number of other factors could cause limb weakness instead of AFM, so it’s important to seek medical care.

With cases on the rise, parents like Wells say she’ll keep those symptoms in mind.

“It’s not something that’s going to make me lose sleep at night, I think there’s stuff happening to kids all the time, so just be aware and pay attention,” said Wells.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the long-term effects of AFM are unknown. In rare cases, paralysis can happen requiring on-going care.