Horrid polio-like disease stalking children in California, may be very widespread
Disease may be caused by enterovirus 68, doctors warned.
A serious and unknown disease is stalking children in California and possibly across the rest of the nation. An illness, quite similar to polio, has appeared in several California children in California's San Francisco Bay area. It may have already spread.
A child in India receives a dose of polio vaccine. The polio virus is nearly eradicated around the world.
California doctors have been watching for the disease since 2012 when the first case was reported in a 2 year-old from Berkeley. Two-year-old Sofia Jarvis was admitted into an intensive care ward at a children's hospital in Oakland for difficulty breathing.
Asthma was initially suspected, especially since polluted air makes asthma a common, chronic illness for children in that state. However, her mother, Jessica Tomei, 37, said that when they left the hospital she noticed her daughter had extreme weakness in her left arm.
Sofia was referred to specialists who soon realized that she was losing the use of her left arm and that her breathing troubles were related. Fearing polio, a disease which is eradicated in the U.S. and nearly around the world, doctors performed more tests. However, the illness remained mysterious. It wasn't polio.
Doctors now believe the disease may be related to polio, the outbreak of a new enterovirus, which is the same family of viruses that causes polio. Early studies suggest that enterovirus 68, a related virus that could cause these symptoms, is present in the children.
An outbreak of enterovirus 68 was reported in the Philippines in 2008-2009. The outbreak killed several children as a result of what the CDC reports as "severe respiratory illness."
Doctors have noticed a pattern of spinal cord inflammation and other symptoms consistent with a viral infection.
At least 25 children in California, mostly from the Bay area, have been diagnosed with the unknown illness with various levels of impairment. Victims are all children and they lose the use of one or more limbs as a result.
Sadly, these child victims will not likely recover. Instead, their impaired limbs will atrophy and they will have breathing difficulties for life.
Doctors also suspect there could be many more, but less severe cases out there, meaning the disease could already be widespread, but they are just noticing the most severe cases.
Because younger doctors have no experience with polio, officials worry that other cases may have already been brought to doctors and misdiagnosed as asthma or another neurological illness.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is also monitoring any reports of the disease.
For the moment, word about the illness is spreading and neurologists are being advised to look out for cases that are yet unreported. It is not known how the disease is transmitted or what the risk factors are beyond youth.
So far, the disease appears to have had a small impact overall, although it has changed the lives of at least 25 California children forever.
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