Mysterious Illness in California Hits Two Dozen Kids — and the ‘Best-Case Scenario’ Is Terrifying

Up to two dozen children in California have been struck with a polio-like syndrome that doctors say is leaving them with paralyzed limbs even in the best of cases.

“Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome,” Dr. Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. “In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia.”

The children with the polio-like illness were all vaccinated. Doctors think another virus might be to blame. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
The children with the polio-like illness were all vaccinated. Doctors think another virus might be to blame. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Van Haren thinks something similar could be happening in California.

According to USA Today, the first case in California emerged in 2012 with then-2-year-old Sofia Jarvis. Two years later, Jarvis can’t move her left arm and has trouble with her left leg.

Van Haren and his colleagues began looking into the polio-like illness after seeing others similar to Jarvis. Children who exhibited sudden paralysis were included in the state’s Neurologic and Surveillance Testing program from August 2012 to July 2013. The news release about the case study stated that all the children had received the polio vaccine.

“What’s we’re seeing now is bad. The best-case scenario is complete loss of one limb, the worst is all four limbs, with respiratory insufficiency, as well. It’s like the old polio,” Van Haren told USA Today.

He said that there could be up to 25 cases in the state.

But Van Haren doesn’t want parents to panic.

“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,” he said.

Five children in the case study experienced paralysis of at least one of their limbs with the full severity of the symptoms coming on in just a couple of days. Of this group, two were found to have enterovirus-68, which has been associated with polio-like symptoms but no cause was found in the other three children.

USA Today reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with Van Haren to see if any cases outside of California have occurred. None have been reported so far.

Dr. Carol Glaser with the California Department of Public Health said doctors should report any cases of children experiencing sudden paralysis.

“We want to hear from local public health jurisdictions and physicians who are seeing similar illnesses,” Glaser told the Los Angeles Times.

The case report was released this week and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th annual meeting in April.