Polio-Like Disease Contracted By Five California Kids Since 2012, But Doctors Are Stumped

On Monday, doctors revealed that five children have contracted a mysterious, paralyzing illness in California in the last two years. While the symptoms are similar to polio, all five children have been vaccinated against polio — and further testing has confirmed none of the children are suffering from polio. Three of the children had demonstrated symptoms of respiratory illness, and all of them have been struck down with leg paralysis.

Keith Van Haren, a neurology professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, released Monday's case report with co-author Dr. Emanuelle Waubant. In a statement, Dr. Waubant noted:

Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome. 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 cases were first recorded in late 2012, and doctors have yet to determine the illness. However, Californian doctors have determined that two of the children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus associated with respiratory illnesses.

On the other hand, the other three children tested negative for enterovirus-68, leaving the doctors' hypothesis at just that: a hypothesis. The Californian medics believe it's a type of enterovirus, a class of viruses that include not only polio, but also hand, foot, and mouth disease. In the past 10 years, several new enterovirus strains have sprung up in Asian and Australian children, as Van Haren points out. Unfortunately, unlike polio, there are no vaccines for those diseases.

Van Haren and his team have also looked into similar cases that have erupted in California, and estimate that up to 25 people may have contracted the polio-like illness, with the median age being 12. All of the cases are within the state.

In April, the group of doctors will present a full case report on the outbreak at Philadelphia's American Academy of Neurology.