According to reports, there are now about 25 or more cases, and counting, of a new “polio-like” outbreak in California children. Disease control officials have yet to determine the cause of the outbreak and they are looking for a new virus. Perhaps one direction they should take a look at is polio and other childhood vaccinations.
Initial reports haveindicated that the children being affected by the new disease have all been vaccinated against polio. The scenario of children vaccinated against polio and other illnesses coming down with a “polio-like” illness is all too familiar. Look for example at what happened in India when widespread polio vaccinations were used to reportedly eradicate polio from India.
India’s polio vaccination experience
After years of massive administration of polio vaccine, India was declared polio-free and the last reported incidence of polio in India was in January 2011. Although the reported milestone has been widely publicized, what has not been so widely reported is that there were an extra 47,500 new cases in 2011 of the rare illness known as Non-Polio Acute Flaccid Paralysis (NPAFP).
The incidence of NPAFP in India in 2011 was 12 times higher than expected and was found to be directly proportional to doses of oral polio received. Though it may be called “Non-Polio” the symptoms of NPAFP are clinically indistinguishable from polio paralysis and the illness is twice as deadly.
The California “polio-like” illness outbreak
Researchers first identified a polio-like syndrome in a cluster of five children from California over a one-year period, according to a case report that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology‘s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014.
The children were treated but their symptoms did not improve and they still had poor limb function after six months. Two children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus previously associated with polio-like symptoms. No cause was identified in the remaining three children.
“Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome,” said case report author Keith Van Haren, MD, with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. “These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California.”
Van Haren said he and his colleagues noticed several of these cases at their medical centers and decided to look for similar cases in California. They reviewed all polio-like cases among children who had samples referred to California’s Neurologic and Surveillance Testing program from August 2012 to July 2013. The five children experienced paralysis of one or more arms or legs that came on suddenly and reached the height of its severity within two days of onset. Three of the children had a respiratory illness before the symptoms began. All of the children had been previously vaccinated against polio.
Cases were included in the analysis if the children had paralysis affecting one or more limbs with abnormal MRI scans of the spinal cord that explained the paralysis. They did not include children who met criteria for Guillain-Barre syndrome, another polio-like syndrome which has been linked to childhood vaccinations including flu shots.
Other countries where polio vaccinations have been used are also seeing increases in the new “non-polio” illness. Some have argued that NPAFB and other polio-like conditions are actually just different kinds of polio which were given separate classifications to enable authorities to claim victory over polio. After all, if it were actually some kind of polio instead of “polio-like” then polio could not be claimed to have been eradicated.
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