PA Doctors Keep Close Eye On Polio-like Illness In California

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Doctors in California are watching for signs of more children being affected by a polio-like syndrome.  So far about 20 kids have been stricken with the disease, from which only some of them have recovered.

You may have heard the story of four-year-old Sofia Jarvis, from California.  After being hospitalized with what doctors thought were asthma symptoms, Sofia's left arm suddenly stopped working.

That was two years ago, and she is still paralyzed.

"They've labeled it as a polio-like illness.  And every time you use the word "polio" you strike fear in the hearts of those of us who remember the polio days," said Dr. Michael Ryan, Chairman of Janet Weis Childrens Hospital, part of Geisinger Medical Center near Danville.

Dr. Ryan has been following the illness that has hit some 20 children over the last 18 months, all in the state of California.  He tells us a few of those kids have tested positive for enterovirus 68.

According to Dr. Ryan, enterovirus is fairly common, often the cause of what we recognize as summer colds, and can cause fever, runny nose, cough and body aches.  But some types of enterovirus are more serious, responsible for things like foot and mouth disease, viral meningitis, and encephalitis, or swelling of the brain.

Because of the childrens' paralysis, the syndrome in California is being called polio-like, but Dr. Ryan is quick to point out, polio has been eradicated in the United States since 1979.

"They've identified a couple of patients who had enterovirus 68, and polio is in the enterovirus family, but this is certainly not polio," Dr. Ryan noted.

One of the doctors treating Sofia in California told CNN this doesn't appear to be an epidemic, more like a rare phenomenon that needs further investigation.

Dr. Ryan says any time there's a sign of weakness in your arms and legs, or hands and feet, that's something that should be checked out by a doctor.