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Mysterious Polio-Like Illness Strikes Kids in California

Only a small number of cases identified, experts say, with no clear common cause

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Because there is no reporting requirement, the scope of the problem is still hard to assess, explained Dr. Carol Glaser, chief of encephalitis and the special investigations section in the California Department of Public Health. "We do not know whether these cases represent an increase in cases over what usually occurs or even if cases are an ongoing or isolated occurrence," she said.

Glaser also pointed out that the California Department of Public Health has not yet identified a common cause for the cases. "At this stage, CDPH has asked health care providers to report any polio-like cases they might identify and send specimens so that we can better assess the situation," she said.

On a national level, the CDC also cannot know for sure whether there are more cases of this polio-like syndrome than they have heard about, or to what event the illness may be appearing in other states. "It's hard to know if five or 20 cases in the course of a year or two are significant," said Jason McDonald, CDC spokesperson. "Acute flaccid paralysis can be the result of a variety of viral and non-viral causes."

Parents who notice a sudden onset of weakness in their children should see their pediatrician right away, Van Haren advised. Physicians in the state should notify the California Department of Public Health any time they see a child with acute flaccid paralysis that is not due to diseases that affect the nervous system, such as botulism or Guillain-Barre syndrome, he added.

For her part, Glaser emphasized that only a very small number of cases have been identified, with no clear common cause. "Health care providers have been asked to send information about similar cases so that we can determine whether or not there is anything unusual about these cases," she said.

Because this case review has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary, CDC's McDonald cautioned.

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