Polio-like illnesses have physicians wondering
A relatively small number of California children have recently been diagnosed with an unexplained illness doctors are comparing to polio, state health officials have confirmed, though they don’t yet know the exact cause.
Officials with the California Department of Public Health say the illness, suspected to be caused by a virus, has caused a reported 20 to 25 children throughout the state to suffer polio-like symptoms, including severe weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs. They say the illness sometimes follows a mild bout of respiratory illness and scans of the affected children show damage similar to that caused by polio.
Polio, once an epidemic, has been eradicated in the U.S. thanks to childhood vaccinations against the illness. Health officials say the affected children, the first of whom was identified in August 2012, have an average age of 12. Many have been left with permanent paralysis and respiratory issues.
The California Department of Public Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. So far, the CDC has not had reports of any similar cases outside of California.
“This appears to be a new illness, based on the very preliminary information that’s available,” says Dr. James Malow, infection control specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “According to available information, the illness may be due to an enterovirus, which is in the same family as the polio virus.”
Dr. Malow says there’s no reason for parents to panic, as the illness seems, so far, to have affected only a handful of children in California. However, if children get sick and show signs of weakness or paralysis, parents should get them immediate medical attention.
“There’s just not enough known, at this point,” he says. “It remains to be seen exactly what this illness is and what is the cause. And until then, there is no testing available, particularly in asymptomatic individuals.”
Dr. Malow stresses that the illness appears to be very, very rare and public health officials are doing all they can to find the cause of the condition.
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