Rare Polio-Like Disease Strikes Children in California

child and doctorA rare illness has hit California over the past 18 months, causing some children to become paralyzed and baffling doctors who still don’t know exactly what it is.

The first known case struck 4-year-old  Sofia Jarvis in 2012, and it has hit at least 20 other victims. The average age of the patients is 12 years old.

Dr. Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, has written a report about five of the early cases and has also treated Sofia.

“It can affect one or more limbs, and the prognosis that we’ve seen so far is not good. Most of the children we’ve seen have not recovered use of their arm or leg,”  Van Haren told CBS News.

The symptoms begin like those of the common cold, but then rapidly develop over the course of 48 hours to include paralysis. In Sofia’s case, she started to wheeze and her mother, Jessica Tomei, took her to the hospital. Four days later, after being discharged, little Sofia was reaching into her toy chest when her left arm stopped working mid grasp. Today, she has lost complete function in that limb.

Poliomyelitis or polio has been eliminated as a cause as the children had been vaccinated and tested negative for this disease. Polio is an infectious viral disease that causes inflammation in the spinal cord
‘s grey matter, which in some cases can also lead to flaccid paralysis. It was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases in early 20th century until a vaccine was developed in the 1950s.

What doctors do know, according to the hospital’s website, is this:

“Doctors are not sure, but suspect it may be caused by a virus. Some of the children identified with this disease have had enterovirus-68, which is from the same family as the polio viruses. This virus is suspected in part because a similar type of paralysis caused by another enterovirus has been seen for many years in Asia and Australia. Another possibility is that the disease may be autoimmune.”

Parents are being urged not to panic, as the condition is very rare; but if they do notice symptoms to see a healthcare practitioner right away.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on twitter @ReporterandGirl or on Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at www.SCRhyne.com

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