Paralyzing like polio

Mysterious disease test positive for rare enterovirus

Symptoms reminiscent of polio have been exhibited by over 20 children, aged two to 16, in California, alarming medical professionals.

Pediatric neurologist Dr. Keith Van Haren said, “What’s we’re seeing now is bad. The best-case scenario is complete loss of one limb; the worst is all four limbs, with respiratory insufficiency, as well. It’s like the old polio.”

Evidently, this is not polio, as five of the aforementioned children had already received polio vaccinations. However, medical treatment did not help them to recover from the paralysis of one or more of their limbs, which began between August 2012 and July 2013. Not only did their symptoms lessen after six months, but even their limb movement remained unsatisfactory.

To further baffle the results, two of them have been tested positive for “enterovirus- 68,” a rare virus which causes respiratory and polio-like complications.

While Dr. Van Haren has said, “We don’t have vaccines for the other enteroviruses,” not all of them had this virus. Dr. Jane Seward from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said that could have been an “incidental finding.”

In April last year, the World Health Organization declared that it intended to eliminate polio by the year 2018. While vaccination has mostly eradicated the polio virus worldwide, it is still alive in some parts of the world.

Conflicts have helped the continued existence of polio – referencing United Nations aid agencies, Reuters reported in January that “heavy fighting” in the civil war in Syria had “prevented health workers from getting polio vaccines to an estimated one hundred thousand Syrian children in the northeastern province of Raqqa” after 17 children were confirmed to have the disease in October last year. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, polio cases increased from 58 in 2012 to 91 in 2013.

Now that this is a recognized situation, doctors are asked to keep an eye out for similar situations, in hopes of being able to identify the source or any other information that would be able to help the treatment of patients.

Dr. Van Haren stated, “We want to temper the concern, because at the moment, it does not appear to represent a major epidemic but only a very rare phenomenon.”

This issue will be further discussed in Philadelphia during the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in April-May 2014. Thea Loise P. Torres with a ThinkProgress report

VitalSigns Issue 61 Vol. 3, March 1-31, 2014