PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 10-year-old Salem girl is hospitalized in Portland with what may be a case of a polio-like illness.
Breea Shelton is being treated at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital with a suspected case of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which affects the nervous system and specifically the spinal cord.
Breea has been at Doernbecher since Friday, and though it is not a confirmed diagnosis, the clinical signs point to AFM.
“It’s really scary for me and a lot of the extended family,” Breea’s great uncle Max Marshall said Wednesday. “It’s a feeling of helplessness because we really can’t do anything.”
He added it’s especially challenging for the family because Breea is a non-verbal girl with autism.
She got sick about 10 days ago, he said. “She had the sniffles, you know, just sniffles, regular common cold symptoms in kids that you take for granted a little bit.”
He said they went to the doctor a few days later and thought it was just a cold. But they went back to the doctor when she began to have trouble breathing “and they were leaning toward, like, asthma.”
Breea, he said, began losing feeling on her left side and “she was going limp.”
That’s when her parents took her to the emergency room and said “something is drastically wrong with my daughter.”
Dr. Colin Roberts, a pediatric neurologist with Doernbecher, said Breea had weakness after an infection which caused them to be more concerned. Her parents granted him permission to speak with KOIN 6 News.
“The infection that usually starts out as a respiratory infection begins to then attack parts of the nervous system and cause systems that are often weakness,” the doctor told KOIN 6 News.
AFM is rare, a complication of a viral infection, he said. The virus most commonly associated with AFM is enterovirus, but other viruses could be associated with it, too.
“This is much, much rarer than the conditions we’ve seen before and we are right now trying to determine how we can help children who present with this.”
Most kids who have had these infections are left with a varying degree of weakness.
“It’s very difficult to predict,” Dr. Roberts said. “This is different from many of the other children we see present with weakness following viral infections where our hope for recovery is much more optimistic.”
They’re using a therapy that is promising but not yet proven, he said.
The CDC is investigating the increase in AFM in 2016. “As of September 2016, 89 people in 33 states were confirmed to have AFM. Even with an increase in cases in 2016, AFM remains a very rare disease (less than one in a million).”
He said there may be a few more cases reported at Doernbecher but he doesn’t expect a large outbreak of AFM.
“If your child is sick, treat them for the symptoms if you can,” he said. “If you begin to notice additional symptoms beyond just the typical cough, cold, sneeze symptoms particularly if you notice weakness, that would obviously be a reason to contact your health care provider.”
Eight children in Washington state have recently been hospitalized with AFM.
Washington State Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Graham says a ninth child who died this week at a Seattle hospital was found not to have the syndrome.
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to determine the exact cause of AFM. The children had a loss of strength or movement in one or more arms or legs with a range of types and severity of symptoms.
Many viruses and germs are linked to AFM, including germs that can cause colds.
Doctors say the syndrome is not contagious.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.