Strange Polio-Like Illness Causes Child Paralysis

Physicians have discovered a frightening new syndrome that strongly resembles polio, which left millions of American children (and a U.S. President) paralyzed or nearly paralyzed until the development of a vaccine in the post-World War II era.

Doctors are focusing their attention on five patients, all children, who developed paralysis in at least one of their limbs between August 2012 and July of last year. It’s worth noting that, like millions of other children, the patients had been vaccinated against the poliovirus.

Tests now show that two of the children have tested positive for a very rare virus know as enterovirus 68 — a severe respiratory illness. The condition was first discovered half a century ago, but less than thirty cases of the virus were discovered in the U.S. over the following four decades.

However, enterovirus 68 has been more prevalent in southeast Asia and Australia. In fact, several cases emerged in the Sydney area just last year.

“We see cases from time to time in the United States,” noted Dr. Steven Oberste, chief of the Polio and Picornavirus Laboratory Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Occasionally they’ll be severe. Basically it’s identical to what’s circulating in Asia … but it doesn’t cause the same big outbreak in disease. And we really don’t know why.”

Examinations of the other three children are ongoing.

New information about the children is not expected to be known until late April, when physicians involved in the cases will present their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual conference.

In the meantime, California medical officials are doing their best to keep parents calm. “We are evaluating cases as they are reported to us,” noted Dr. Carol Glaser, a leading medical expert with the California Department of Health. “We have not found anything at this point that raises any public health concerns.”


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