(RxWiki News) The US was declared polio-free over 30 years ago, but now an unknown illness that may be related to the disease is causing concern in California.
According to health officials, around 20 cases of this mysterious illness have been discovered in the state, causing paralysis of the limbs and breathing troubles.
Officials are calling for awareness of the illness and asking that any potential cases be reported to health authorities as more is learned.
"See your doctor immediately if your child suddenly becomes weak."
According to the Los Angeles Times, this unknown illness was first discovered in 2012 in California and has since affected around 20 children in the state.
The illness has reportedly developed quickly in patients after mild respiratory illness, causing severe weakness and even paralysis.
The LA Times reported that spinal cord scans of the patients showed damage similar to that seen in cases of polio, but the illnesses are not one and the same.
In an interview with USA Today, Keith Van Haren, MD, pediatric neurologist at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California, explained the severity and symptoms of the illness, which he said has been seen in patients with an average age of 12.
"What's we're seeing now is bad," Dr. Van Haren told USA Today. "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."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), polio, which is spread from person to person, crippled around 35,000 people in the US each year during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was eradicated in much of the world thanks to vaccination efforts.
While the young patients with this new condition "definitely do not have polio," according to Dr. Van Haren, he told USA today that he suspects the illness is caused by an enterovirus — a family of viruses that includes polio and hand, foot and mouth disease.
"In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia," Dr. Van Haren told USA Today.
USA Today reported that public health officials from California have begun working with CDC to look for cases of the illness in other US states, although none have been discovered so far.
Despite the seriousness of the cases, Dr. Van Haren stressed that the reported illnesses should not cause a panic.
"This is really very rare," said Dr. Van Haren. "But we are asking any families who notice a sudden onset of weakness to see their doctors immediately. Their doctors should contact the California Department of Public Health."
In April, Dr. Van Haren and colleagues will present a case report detailing several cases of the California illnesses at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Philadelphia. Health officials are currently investigating the illness, and it is expected that more will be learned as the investigation continues.