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A puzzling virus similar to the poliovirus infected 25 children in California

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A puzzling virus similar to the poliovirus infected 25 children in California. Five of the children are experiencing limb paralysis. Public health officials and medical researchers are on high alert.

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Recognizing the poliovirus and recent puzzling polio-like virus

Public health officials became aware of this new virus in 2012. In Berkeley, California, 2-year-old, Sofia Jarvis experienced difficulty breathing and started wheezing. Initially, doctors suspected she had asthma; however, after Sofie and her mother, Jessica Tomei, left the doctor's office, Jessica recognized something else was wrong with Sofia. Jessica expressed her concern:

"As we were leaving the doctor's office, I noticed that she went to grab something with her left arm and she stopped, midway."

Two years later, Sofia succumbed to weakness in her left leg and her left arm became paralyzed.

Last Sunday, Dr. Keith Van Haren, an instructor in neurology and neurological sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., provided a written statement as follows,

"These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California. We would like to stress that this syndrome appears to be very, very rare. Any time a parent sees symptoms of paralysis in a child, the child should be seen by a doctor right away."

Polio and non-polio enterovirus

During the 19040s and early 1950s close to 35,000 people contracted the poliovirus in the U.S. This infectious disease spread from person to person, attacking brain cells and causing a paralysis of the spinal cord. However, by 1979, the U.S. eradicated the poliovirus with the use of a vaccine.

The poliovirus vaccine was also successful in getting rid of the virus globally with the exception of Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. According to health officials, a polio strain in Peshawar, Pakistan may compromise the global eradication efforts.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people in the United States are more likely to become infected with the non-polio enterovirus during the fall and summer months. Non-polio enteroviruses are very common viruses—each year, about 10 to 15 million people become infected with this infectious disease.

Poliovirus and Polio-like virus concern

Carol Glaser, chief of the encephalitis and special investigation section of the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento expressed this concern,

"The cause of most of these cases is not known. Some clinical and laboratory features, such as the pattern of inflammation seen in the spinal cord on MRI, are consistent with a viral process. There are too few cases of this emerging infectious polio-like syndrome illness to warrant an impending threat according to neurologists. The California Department of Public Health has asked health care providers to report any polio-like cases they might identify and send specimens so that we can better assess the situation."

Read more of George Zapo’s articles pertaining to public, global, and environmental health at his website: georgezapo.com.

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