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California polio-like illness in kids: Limb paralysis baffles doctors

Polio-like illness seen in about 20 cases in California, all children.
Polio-like illness seen in about 20 cases in California, all children.

A polio-like illness that is leaving children with paralysis is mystifying doctors in California. While the number of exact cases are not released, a doctor studying the cases said that all the known cases are of children and there are approximately 20 cases in all that they’ve seen.

Fox News reports on Feb. 24 that the illness paralyzes one or more limbs of the children and none have recovered function in their paralyzed legs or arms. While this looks like polio, it is not. Dr. Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital said that all the patients he studied had been previously vaccinated against polio.

It was in 2012 when the first case came to the attention of doctors. The child had a severe paralytic illness and tests for polio came back negative. The median age of these approximate 20 cases is 12.

Doctors are seeing the paralysis occur after the child has had a mild respiratory illness caused by a virus in some of the cases. That virus has also been linked to this polio-like illness, which was detected in two of the cases. Some of the symptoms in a few of the cases could be linked to known causes like botulism and West Nile.

The illness is so baffling because scanned images of the children's spinal cords have revealed damage to the spinal cord which is usually seen in people who have polio. Carol Glaser, who is the leader of a California Department of Public Health team investigating these polio-like cases is asking doctors and other health officials to report to her if they see any similar symptoms in the children that they encounter.