A great advancement in medical science came with the development of the polio vaccine. However, even with that debilitating strain gone from our lexicon for decades, there seems to be a new viral strain that has reared its ugly head in recent months that is presenting with polio-like symptoms. Since 2012, doctors have isolated five cases in California alone where children exhibited severe weakness or rapid paralysis in their limbs. The findings of this new strain is being presented at this year’s meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.
“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, of Stanford University told Medical New Today. “In the last 10 years, researchers have identified strains of enterovirus linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia,” he adds. “These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California.”
The official medical classification of polio is poliomyelitis. Between the late 1940s and early 1950s, this infectious viral disease targeted over 35,000 Americans alone. A very powerful vaccine was developed which lead to the U.S. declaring that as of 1979 the country was polio-free. That doesn’t mean that the world was free from the grip of this devastating illness. By 1988, over a 125 countries were dealing with polio. The good news is that since then, the disease has dropped off the radar by up to 99%. The goal of total eradication is in sight by 2018.
That hasn’t stopped the research especially when cases are flagged with symptoms that mirror polio. That is what Dr. Van Haren and his colleagues uncovered as they took samples from a cross-section of children who exhibited these symptoms between August 2012 and July 2013. The test group was limited to patients in California. After excluding illnesses such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and botulism, the doctors discovered they were facing a new viral disease.
All of the five diagnosed children, had received a polio vaccination before the onset of the illness. Three of the children went through a respiratory ailment before the first sign of symptoms. Two of the children tested positive for a rare virus, enterovirus 68. Now that this virus has been flagged, Dr. Van Haren will intensify monitoring. The “silver lining” is that this syndrome appears to be very rare.
“Any time a parent sees symptoms of paralysis in a child, the child should be seen by a doctor right away,” urges Dr. Van Haren.