Doctors seek cause of polio-like illness in California

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Doctors in California say about 20 children there have paralysis from a polio-like illness. The illnesses occurred over the last 18 months.  A Kansas City infectious disease specialist says this is not a time for parents here to be highly concerned about that illness.

Sophia Jarvis had one of the five early cases of paralysis in California that doctors have documented.  Eighteen months ago, her arm suddenly stopped moving.  Function didn't return.  An MRI later showed a lesion on her spinal cord.  It happened after she was hospitalized with some trouble breathing.

“She started wheezing.  She had not had any history of asthma," said her mother, Jessica Tomei.

Dr. Christopher Harrison of Children's Mercy Hospital says if your child starts wheezing now, a paralyzing disease should not be the first thing on your mind.

"That's not it.  Because right now we have Respiratory Syncytial Virus, RSV, in the community, and we're admitting 15 to 20 kids a day with that," said Dr. Harrison.

FOX 4 told you about RSV several weeks ago.

RELATED: Cases rise of virus that strikes many infants hard

It's a common virus every winter that can strike little ones hard.

So what caused the California cases of paralysis?  One possibility that was found in several of the children is enterovirus 68.  It's a common cause of summer colds here.

"Those infections in this part of the country happen almost always in summertime," said Dr. Harrison.

The infectious disease specialist says it's possible that the California children had a rare reaction to that virus or another.  Their genetic make-up may have made them more susceptible.

"Not like polio back in the 1950’s where as many as three to four percent of children who got it would get the paralytic phenomenon," said Dr. Harrison.

He says it is unlikely that vaccination had anything to do with the California cases.  The average age of the children is 12.  He says those affected would be younger if vaccination were possibly involved.

Nevertheless, he says if your child has sudden paralysis in a limb, seek medical help immediately.

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