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Strange Polio-like illness striking children in California

Sunday the LosAngeles Times reported that some children in California have contracted a mysterious polio-like illness that is baffling public health officials.

Four-year-old Sofia Jarvis is one of several California children suffering polio-like symptoms.
Jarvis family

The illnesses started back in 2012 says, Dr. Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. VanHaren tells the Los Angeles Times that the children do not have polio and all of them have been vaccinated. But five of the children developed paralysis in one or more of their arms or legs, and none have recovered.

A doctor reported the first case in the fall of 2012, when he requested polio testing on a child who had developed a severe paralytic illness. California health officials did not release to the Times the total number of cases reported. Van Haren says he was aware of about 20 cases. The median age of the children is 12 years old.

Berkeley resident Sofia Jarvis, 4, is one of Van Haren's patients. The girl suffered paralysis in her left arm following a brief asthma-like illness in November 2012.

"She went to grab a toy, and mid-grasp her arm stopped working," said mother Jessica Tomei.

The symptoms sometimes happened after a mild respiratory illness. Carol Glaser, leader of a California Department of Public Health team investigating the cases, says a virus that is usually associated with respiratory illness but which has also been linked to polio-like illnesses was detected in two of the patients. Other cases were reported in children who suffered symptoms that could not be linked to known causes like West Nile virus or botulism.

Glaser also told the Times that scans of the children's spinal cords showed damage patterns such as those found in polio sufferers. Two children tested positive for enterovirus-68, which is usually associated with respiratory illness, but has been linked to polio-like illnesses. Medical professionals are stumped.

Glaser says, "We want to hear from local public health jurisdictions and physicians who are seeing similar illnesses," she said.

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