What's Causing a Polio-Like Cluster in Colorado?

A cluster of paralysis and limb weakness among nine children in Colorado has researchers at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention baffled. The CDC is evaluating whether the symptoms could be associated with the recent outbreak of enterovirus D68 across the nation.

The children in question developed respiratory problems, but later developed limb weakness. Doctors say some of the children later developed paralysis in some of their limbs.

CNN is reporting that four of the children have tested positive for enterovirus D68 so far, but doctors are not sure that the virus, which has spread across the U.S., is the cause of the paralysis and muscle weakness. The children have tested negative for West Nile virus and polio. All are being treated at Children's Hospital in Aurora. Most are reportedly from the Denver metropolitan area. 

In February, another polio-like syndrome was revealed in California.  Five cases of sudden onset paralysis were described by Stanford University researchers at an American Academy of Neurology conference in Philadelphia.

"Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome," said Stanford neurologist Keith Van Haren.

"In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia," Van Haren continued in a statement.

The California children in the Stanford University report tested negative for polio, and all had been vaccinated. Two of the five children tested positive for D68.

Thousands of children across the nation have been sent to the hospital with a severe respiratory virus and 277 of those cases are confirmed to be enterovirus D68. The presence of the virus has been confirmed in 40 states. Researchers also say that they don’t yet know why this particular enterovirus outbreak is so severe compared with past years.

Enteroviruses are a diverse group of viruses that affect millions of people worldwide each year and have a high mutation rate. The most common ones resemble symptoms of an intense cold, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, which may be worse in those who suffer from asthma. Doctors say the virus can be accompanied by a rash, fever and wheezing. Often described as a summer cold, some enteroviruses typically peak just in time for the beginning of the school year.

This particular enterovirus is a distant cousin of the polio virus. The chief symptom of the virus, as it progresses, is difficulty breathing. Children with asthma have the greatest risk for hospitalization. The virus was first identified in the 1960s but has not been very common until now with only a few reported cases identified since that time, mostly in clusters in the U.S. and overseas. There is no vaccine for the D68 virus and no specific treatment; doctors have been effectively treating it with supportive care, including the administration of oxygen. None of the reported cases have proven fatal to date.

Doctors are giving standard advice when asked how to mitigate the chances of infection. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and avoiding direct physical contact with other people are the best ways to avoid infection.

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