SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2016

Five children in California contract polio-like illness

Researchers identified a mysterious, polio-like syndrome in a cluster of California children over a one-year period, the American Academy of Neurology said on Sunday.

Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Stanford University, and Emanuelle Waubant, a neurology professor with the University of California at San Francisco, wrote a case report about the disease. The five children experienced sudden paralysis of one or more arms or legs that reached the height of its severity within two days of onset.

All of the children were previously vaccinated against polio, a contagious disease that sometimes causes paralysis. The U.S. experienced a polio epidemic in the 1950s until a vaccine was introduced.

"Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome," Van Haren said. "In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia. These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California."

The children were treated but their symptoms did not improve. The patients still had poor limb function after six months.

While two of the children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus previously associated with polio-like symptoms, no cause was identified in the other three children.

"Our findings have important implications for disease surveillance, testing and treatment," Van Haren said. "We would like to stress that this syndrome appears to be very, very rare. Any time a parent sees symptoms of paralysis in a child, the child should be seen by a doctor right away."

The case report will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia between April 26 and May 3.