A small cluster of 20 to 25 children in California have developed a poliolike illness during the past 18 months, raising the possibility of a new, emerging infectious disease, according to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).
A report on five of the earliest cases will be presented at the AAN’s annual meeting, held April 26 to May 3 in Philadelphia.
The authors of the report are quick to acknowledge that the mystery illness in California is not polio.
“The disease resembles, but is not the same as, polio,” said Keith Van Haren, MD, a co-author who teaches neurological sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Polio, a crippling infectious disease caused by a virus, has been nearly eradicated throughout the world through the use of vaccines. It was officially declared eliminated from the U.S. in 1979, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All five of the original children had sudden paralysis of one or more of their limbs, as well as respiratory illness. Imaging tests found abnormalities in their spinal cords.
Two of the children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus with polio like symptoms. Poliovirus is one of several strains of enterovirus.
“In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia,” Dr. Van Haren said. “These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio like syndrome in California.”
After seeing the first few children with this new syndrome in their medical clinics, Dr. Van Haren and other physicians began searching for similar cases in California. As of Feb. 23, they had discovered 20 additional children in the state with potentially the same syndrome.
“We would like to stress that this syndrome appears to be very, very rare,” said Dr. Van Haren.
However, he added, “Any time a parent sees symptoms of paralysis in a child, the child should be seen by a doctor right away.”