Mysterious Polio-Like Syndrome Strikes California Children

A mysterious polio-like syndrome has struck nearly 20 California children. Doctors are concerned, as they have not identified the source and the illness may cause permanent disability. The syndrome was initially reported in 2012 when a child displayed unexplained paralysis. Although the child was tested for polio, the results were negative.

Dr. Keith Van Haren, with Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, is attempting to identify the source. The doctor has studied five children diagnosed with the polio-like syndrome. Polio was ruled out, as all five patients were immunized against the debilitating disease. Although some of the children started with mild respiratory symptoms, all five eventually experienced paralysis in one or more limb.

Dr. Van Haren noted that the paralysis appears to be permanent. Samples from two children tested positive for enterovirus-68, which is an extremely rare respiratory virus. Doctors said the virus has been linked to polio-like symptoms. However, tests conducted on the other three children were inconclusive.

The doctor said around 20 children were diagnosed with the polio-like syndrome since 2012. All of the children were residents of California. However, the cases do not appear to be concentrated within a specific region. As reported by, all of the children are between the ages of 3 and 12.

Although some of the children had mild respiratory symptoms, others had little warning. Doctors said the paralysis is acute, reaching full severity within 48 hours. The children have participated in physical therapy but were unable to recover function in the affected limbs. MRI scans revealed that some of the children experienced damage to their brain and spinal cord.

Dr. Carol Glaser, with the California Department of Public Health, said the department is aware of the reports. However, they “have not found anything at this point that raises any public health concerns.” As reported by CNN, the department will continue “evaluating cases as they are reported.”

The results of Dr. Haren’s research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual conference. He and his colleagues have asked medical professionals to report any similar illness for inclusion in their research.

Jason McDonald, with the United States Centers for Disease Control, said it is “hard to know” if the outbreak is significant. McDonald said “acute flaccid paralysis can be the result of a variety of viral and non-viral causes.”

Parents are encouraged to consult a pediatrician with any questions about the polio-like syndrome. Although the symptoms are frightening, health officials are not concerned about an epidemic at this time.

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