Since August 2012, at least five Californian children have developed a new alarming paralyzing illness. Though the cause of the illness, which has been described as polio-like, is unknown, health officials are currently investigating up to 25 suspected cases.
Researchers do not believe the culprit is actually poliovirus, which has been eradicated in the U.S. since 1979 and is currently only endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. All five confirmed cases occurred in children who had received the polio vaccine. While two children tested positive for enterovirus-68, an uncommon virus that has been linked to polio-like symptoms in the past, the other three children were negative.
The affected children first developed sudden paralysis in one or more limbs, which peaked within about two days. To date, none of the children have significantly improved, with continued paralysis even six months after symptoms began. Three of the children had had a respiratory illness before the paralysis began. According to California public health officials interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, scans of the children’s spinal cords reveal damage that resembles the changes seen in polio victims.
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) reported that 20 to 25 potential cases have been reported in total, with only five confirmed. The researchers who authored the case study on this new phenomenon will be presenting their findings at the AAN’s annual meeting in late April. The researchers stressed that although the new syndrome is currently very rare, parents of any child experiencing sudden weakness or paralysis should seek medical attention right away.