5 California Children Have Developed Polio-Like Illness

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Child receiving polio immunization  Source: WikiCommons

Child receiving polio immunization
Source: WikiCommons

It has been decades since polio was considered a widespread disease, especially in the Western world where it has almost been entirely eradicated. But, that hasn’t saved a small group of children from California from developing polio-like conditions over a one-year period, according to a case report slated to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

“Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome,” said case report author Keith Van Haren, MD, with Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. Medical Xpress reports Van Haren also works with co-author Emanuelle Waubant, MD, University of California, San Francisco.

“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 ran rampant throughout the United States through the 1950’s and often caused paralysis or disfigurement. Thanks to vaccinations and a worldwide effort from the World Health Organization and UNICEF polio cases around the world have gone down as much as 99 percent. There are now roughly a thousand polio cases recorded each year. Before vaccinations were developed, some more extreme polio cases would spread from the spinal cord to the brain stem, requiring medical intervention such as an iron lung to continue breathing.

Van Haren and his colleagues began to notice multiple cases of children with polio-like symptoms at their medical centers, and they decided to investigate further to see if there were other cases in California. They reviewed all polio-like cases among children who had samples referred to California’s Neurologic and Surveillance Testing program from August 2012 to July 2013.

The cases included in the study were chosen based on whether they had paralysis affecting one or more limbs with abnormal MRI scans of the spinal cord. Children who met the criteria for Guillain-Barré syndrome and botulism were excluded, as those conditions can cause similar symptoms.

All five children identified experienced paralysis of one or more limbs that came on suddenly and reached their peak severity within two days of onset. Of the five, three children had respiratory illness before the symptoms began. Notably, all five subjects had been vaccinated against poliovirus.

The children did not respond to treatment, and showed poor limb function after six months. Two of the children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus linked to polio-like symptoms,but the cause of the other children’s condition remains unexplained.

“Our findings have important implications for disease surveillance, testing and treatment,” said Van Haren. “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.”

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