Five children in Washington state stricken with limb paralysis; health officials investigating

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A rare but potentially severe condition that causes weakness or even paralysis in the arms and legs of children is on the rise, the Centers for Disease and Control of United States says. This year, there was one case of AFM before the current batch of five affected children. However since then, officials say they typically see less than one case a year.

The CDC says it's important to practice disease prevention steps: staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands and preventing mosquito bites. This year along, there were 38 people diagnosed with AFM across 16 states.

The cases involve infants and children under the age of six who all reportedly had symptoms of a respiratory illness in the week prior to developing symptoms of AFM.

AFM mainly affects children, for reasons which remain unclear.

Diagnosis includes a brain and spine MRI and a spinal tap to test fluid.

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AFM is believed to be caused by viruses, notably the enterovirus D68. To put the recent increase in perspective, the highest number of reported cases was 149 in 2016.

In its most severe form, AFM can lead to respiratory failure.

The disease is not new, but there was an uptick in cases starting in 2014, the CDC says. "Isolation protocols and infection control procedures are in place and we are working with the CDC and the Allegheny County Health Department to further monitor and evaluate the patient conditions".

However, 11 of the Colorado cases of AFM have tested positive for EV A71, a rare type of enterovirus not usually seen in the USA but instead in Asia and other parts of the world, according to Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the Colorado state epidemiologist. There isn't a vaccine that could prevent AFM and there isn't a vaccine that causes the condition, medical experts said.

"We don't yet have any effective treatment for the virus or for the condition", Messacar said.

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CDC specialists will make the final determination as to whether the cases in Washington are AFM, state health officials said.

Ehresman says it's unknown what causes A-F-M but people should observe good hygiene and be sure vaccinations are up-to-date.

The condition - which attacks the nervous system - causes symptoms including neck weakness or stiffness, drooping eyelids or a facial droop and difficulty swallowing or slurred speech. Since there is no specific treatment as of yet, neurologists can recommend certain interventions on a case-by-case basis, recommending physical or occupational therapy to help with limb weakness.

AFM or similar neurologic conditions may have a variety of possible causes such as viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders.

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