TIME Infectious Disease

California Children Contract Mysterious Polio-Like Illness

Five children experienced sudden paralysis, but all had been vaccinated against polio

A handful of children in California have come down with a paralyzing disease with symptoms very similar to polio.

Since late 2012, California researchers have identified five children who experienced sudden paralysis in one or more of their limbs over a space of two days. Three of the victims had symptoms of respiratory illness before the onset. All of the children had been vaccinated against polio. So far, the paralysis appears permanent.

The illness is thought to be caused by a virus. Two of the children tested positive for a rare virus called enterovirus-68, which has symptoms similar to polio. However, the other three kids tested negative for that, and the cause of their disease remains unknown.

“Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome,” case report author Dr. Keith Van Haren of Stanford University 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. These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California.”

California’s Department of Public Health is investigating the cases, and research about the mystery disease was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on Sunday.

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