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Treasure Valley boy may have rare disease that is alarming national health experts

Online fundraising pages ask for donations to help Ashton Goodson’s family with his medical bills.
Online fundraising pages ask for donations to help Ashton Goodson’s family with his medical bills.

A young child in Southwest Idaho may have a rare, serious and non-contagious illness called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The department did not name the child or say where the child lives. However, a report from KIVI-TV and two medical fundraising pages on Youcaring.com and Gofundme.com identify 3-year-old Ashton Goodson as having a mysterious illness that doctors think may be AFM.

The illness most often affects children. A 6-year-old Bellingham boy died last month after being hospitalized with an illness that may have been AFM. He was one of eight children age 3 to 14 in Washington who came down with mysterious neurologic conditions this fall.

“Due to a recent national increase in cases ... Idaho’s health districts are informing doctors and healthcare providers throughout the state to notify public health if they suspect AFM,” the department said in a blog post. “With this initial case in southwest Idaho, blood samples are being sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing to determine if a cause can be found.”

There have been at least 230 confirmed cases nationwide in the past two years, according to the CDC. It is extremely rare, affecting fewer than one in 1 million people.

But it has paralyzed or limited the mobility of hundreds of children who developed the disease in that time.

Year of onset

Confirmed cases

States with confirmed cases

2014 (Aug-Dec)

120

34

2015

21

16

2016 (Jan-Sept)

89

33

Experts do not know what causes, or how to prevent, AFM. The CDC says it is “actively investigating” the illness and that it “can result from a variety of causes, including viral infections.” The CDC also has not determined the risk factors for developing AFM.

The increase in AFM cases starting in mid-2014 coincided with a national outbreak of enterovirus D68, a severe respiratory illness, the CDC said. But the CDC has not consistently found the enterovirus in specimens collected from people with AFM.

According to the state health department, it is not contagious and can sometimes develop in people who have had viral infections such as West Nile, polio or a cold, or following a fever.

The illness can cause sudden weakness or paralysis in the limbs or other symptoms such as facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, trouble swallowing or slurred speech.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recommends contacting a health care provider immediately if you notice any symptoms.

“Since some cases of AFM occur after infections from preventable diseases, there are interventions you can take to protect yourself and your family. First, make sure everyone is up-to-date on their vaccinations, so you do not get infected with a preventable disease that may make you susceptible to AFM,” the department’s blog post said. “Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating. During seasons when mosquitoes are active, take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey

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