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Polio-like illnesses called a 'rare phenomenon'

Cropped close up of male doctor in clinic

Feb. 24, 2014 9:43 PM EST

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - More than a dozen children in California have developed an extremely rare, polio-like syndrome within the past year that within days paralyzed one or more of the children's arms or legs, Stanford University researchers say.

The illness is still being investigated and appears to be very unusual, but Dr. Keith Van Haren at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University warned Monday that any child showing a sudden onset of weakness in their limbs or symptoms of paralysis should be immediately seen by a doctor.

"The disease resembles but is not the same as polio," he said. "But this is serious. Most of the children we've seen so far have not recovered use of their arm or their leg."

But doctors are not sure if it's a virus or something else, he said. Dr. Van Haren says he's studied five cases from Monterey up through the San Francisco Bay Area, including two who were identified with the disease enterovirus-68, which is from the same family as the polio viruses. He said there have been about 20 cases statewide.

"We want to temper the concern, because at the moment, it does not appear to represent a major epidemic but only a very rare phenomenon," he said, noting similar outbreaks in Asia and Australia.

But for some children, like Sofia Jarvis, 4, of Berkeley, rare doesn't mean safe.

She first developed what looked like asthma two years ago, but then her left arm stopped moving, and has remained paralyzed ever since.

"You can imagine. We had two boys that are very healthy and Sofia was healthy until that point," said her mother Jessica Tomei. "We did not realize what we were in store for. We did not realize her arm would be permanently paralyzed."

Dr. Van Haren, who diagnosed Sofia, said polio vaccines do not protect children from the disease, but stressed that it is still important for children to receive that vaccine.

Dr. Jane Seward of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said Monday that the research is still underway in California, and there are a variety of infectious diseases that can cause childhood paralysis.

So there could be any of a number of illnesses at work here, and it's possible some of the cases had one infection and some had another. Regarding the presence of EV-68 in at least two cases, "it could be an incidental finding," Seward said. Until they get more information, Dr. Seward said they are not looking around the country for similar cases of EV-68.

UC San Francisco neurology professor Emmanuelle Waubant said they believe, but don't have proof, that it's a virus that for most children shows up only as a benign cold. She said a few children, due to their biological makeup, are having much more serious symptoms and she hoped doctors would look for them.

"For a lot of the neurologists who have trained in the last 30 years, it's extremely rare to see polio or polio-like syndrome," she said, urging physicians.

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Sylvia February 25 2014 at 5:30 AM

I am a polio survivor (1937), and I really, really hope and pray that polio has not become resistant to the present vaccine. I'm celebrating my 80th birday this year knowing how lucky I am to have come through with a short, weak left leg after being paralyzed on my left side early on. Bless FDR for the March of Dimes which helped me when I needed it most!

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2 replies
Faith Sylvia February 25 2014 at 5:34 AM

My God continue to bless you Sylvia.

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mailbox20202 Sylvia February 25 2014 at 3:44 PM

Praise should go to Jonas Salk. Wish we had more like like him, but nowadays it's more profitable to "search" for cures than to actually -find- them.

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welcome timothy February 24 2014 at 11:38 PM

picoronaviruses, such as enteroviruses usually are unstable in room temperature. The only virulent form that is stable in room temperature is polio. During the winter, however, these enteroviruses can become virulent and I guess potentially as virulent as polio. the other differential would be of course live attenuated poliovirus, i.e. the oral form. There is about a 1 out of a million chance of getting polio from the live attenuated form, but that wouldn't make sense if so many children developed the disease all at once.

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1 reply
hellyon3too welcome timothy February 25 2014 at 12:33 AM

Attenuated virus polio vaccine is not used in the U.S. and hasn't been for many years.

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madeleinedavis1 February 25 2014 at 12:00 AM

I am a polio survivor, infected in 1948 - age 6 years. I can only pray this is a short term fluke for these children. Surely there is one common denominator. Mutation? Pre-existing illness? A contaminated batch of current vaccine? THINK!!! I am now, age 72, have Post Polio-Syndrome, it started 20 years ago. Need assistance in walking --- easily fatigued. Attitude is Gratitude. I was One of the Lucky Ones!

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mblueb7370 February 25 2014 at 9:40 AM

Just a thought: How many people come to the USA unvaccinated.

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1 reply
gurusoldier mblueb7370 February 25 2014 at 1:32 PM

Our nation's leaders made a big mistake when they took away the screening processes that used to be in place to prevent or at least limit such diseases from entering the USA which was a system of quarantining individuals without proper medical screening for no less than 30 days. Now anyone can come America from anywhere without ever having had any of the most standard vaccinations commonly given to children throughout the world and/or advise our travelers to have before going to another country. Now the disease carrying immigrant problem is even worse with our southern most border being so well known for being unsecured which attracts much more than just Mexicans looking for work and in fact the border patrols have found crossing evidence from people from Central and South America, plus people from the Middle East and Asia too. We with our political correctness are our own worst enemies since we are all too afraid of offending someone rather than do the things that are necessary to protect the people of this nation.

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1 reply
Sue gurusoldier February 25 2014 at 3:09 PM

you have to get shots before you go to others countries for you're own safety so you want catch diseases that maybe in the country where you're going. So why should'nt the people who want to come here have to do the same? They used to have to do that but think about this, obama wants people to be able to come here now even without a passport. So if something were to spread here how would we know how to tell who had it to start with and how to find them?

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velvethorsewings February 25 2014 at 8:10 AM

WHAT ????? "Until they get more information, Dr. Seward said they are not looking around the country for similar cases of EV-68"........WHY NOT ?????!!!!!????? If my memory serves me correctly, when the bird flu virus was presenting itself a couple years ago, and there were a few deathsand there was this "HUGE SCARE" that frightened MOST of us "public".........This childhood paralysis "thing" has already affected 20 children !!! 20 !!!! and "until they get MORE information, .......they are NOT ( ?? ) looking around the country for similar cases of EB-68" WTF !!!

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1 reply
Michelle Neff velvethorsewings February 25 2014 at 1:25 PM

You must be Daddy! Thank you!

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Jan February 25 2014 at 7:22 AM

You have too many parents that refuse to get thier kids vaccinated. Funny, because the kids from the fifties and sixties were vaccinated and we are still living a normal life today. If you love your children; get them vaccinated and fast!! The world is a smaller place and third world countries are in our airplanes and landing and visiting, It has nothing to do with fracking. That is just liberal hysteria.

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1 reply
Rita Jan February 26 2014 at 11:00 AM

Jan, There are lots of people from the fifties and sixties who are very ill from those vaccines. The pertussis vaccine is causing whooping cough to be spread, as does the flu vaccine, and definitely the polio vaccine. If you love your children, the last thing you would do is put so many toxins in their healthy bodies. This is just ONE article on the insanity. Hundreds and hundreds more, maybe you could do a little research before trying to steer people to harm their children. http://nsnbc.me/2013/05/08/bill-gates-polio-vaccine-program-caused-47500-cases-of-paralysis-death/ The library also has books on the history of vaccines if you really want to know how barbaric they are.

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Michelle Neff February 25 2014 at 1:24 PM

My heart goes out to those children,

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Basia February 25 2014 at 4:21 PM

Maybe they where VACCINATED? Maybe this is a side effect of VACCINATION!
I don't see anybody thinking in this direction.

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mpiastra February 25 2014 at 5:00 AM


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lunarstruck February 25 2014 at 3:26 AM

Thanks again, Mexico.

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1 reply
sondi.blue lunarstruck February 25 2014 at 7:17 AM

Far more likely to have come from Asia ....to quote an article I read..."Dr Waubant suspects similar cases in Asia could explain why California is affected, but not the rest of the US." I had read about the Asian outbreak quite awhile ago...

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