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Mysterious Polio-like Disease Found in Five California Children

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A mysterious disease similar to polio has paralyzed five children in California. The five were identified between 2012 and 2013. It is estimated there may be as many as 25 more cases of California children suffering from this mysterious illness. Health care providers are advised to report similar cases and to send in samples from any patient manifesting any of the symptoms.

The children experienced sudden paralysis in a quick span of only two days. Of the five victims, three had respiratory illness symptoms prior to the onset of the yet-unnamed disease. Even more alarming, all five children had been vaccinated against polio, and after six months of treatment there have been no improvements to the children's condition. It remains to be seen whether the paralysis of all five will be permanent.

Scientists conjecture the disease is caused by a virus. During tests, two of the children were positive for the rare enterovirus-68, which manifests symptoms like those of polio. The other three children, by contrast, tested negative for enterovirus-68, thus leaving the health community with more questions than answers.

The Golden State's Department of Public Health is conducting research on the outbreak. One of the department's lead investigators, Dr. Carol Glaser explained that things became "concerning" when polio testing was requested by a doctor in 2012, particularly since none of the five patients had traveled overseas.

In a statement from Stanford University's Dr. Keith Van Hare, he said: "Although polioviurs has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome. In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia. These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California."

Polio is highly contagious, with its known routes being fecal-oral and oral-oral, usually by ingesting contaminated food or water. Polio's incubation period ranges from six to 20 days. Infectious transmission can take place as long as the virus remains in the saliva or feces, thus leading to such measures as closing of public pools in affected areas. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin were instrumental in developing the polio vaccine in the 1950s that in turn helped to eradicate the disease in the subsequent decades.

The appearance of this new polio-like illness is thereby of significant concern for health officials. Meanwhile, research on these five cases shall be presented at the 66th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, which will be held in April and May of this year, 2014, in Philadelphia.

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