What's being called a "mystery illness" is causing paralysis in children. Doctors haven't been able to figure out exactly what it is or how to stop it from spreading. Here's what we know. The illness is first showing up as what appears to be a simple cold, the flu or asthma then the kids develop weakness in an arm or leg and before you know it that loss of strength turns into paralysis.
4-year-old Sofia Jarvis' left arm has been paralyzed for almost two years. "We did not realize what we were in store for, did not realize she had spinal chord inflammation and that she would be permanently paralyzed," says Sophia's Mom Jessica Tomei.
Since 2012, twenty kids in California, from Monterey up through the San Francisco Bay Area, have suffered what's being called a Polio like illness. Two kids who have suffered the partial paralysis have been diagnosed with enterovirus, which is in the same family as polio. "This is a very common virus. There are 10 to 15 million infections every year in the U.S. Most people don't have symptoms, some will have colds or diarrhea. In very, very rare cases these viruses can cause paralysis," explains Dr. Catherine Troisi an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Dr. Troisi says enterovirus is spread person-to-person like the flu.
"So you shake hands with them and then you absent-mindedly touch your eyes or put your finger in your mouth or you touch a doorknob," says Dr. Troisi but is this mystery sickness enterovirus? The illness is still being investigated and test results aren't in yet. Doctors are also exploring the possibilities of where the sickness came from. "There's another virus that has been associated in the same family, same type of virus, that has been associated with paralysis that's spreading in Asia. There's close connections between Asia and California. It may have come that way. Until we know more about the virus we just don't know," explains Dr. Troisi.
The polio vaccine will not protect children from this illness. Once kids come down with this, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a cure and the paralysis appears to be permanent. One of the only ways kids can protect themselves against getting the disease is regularly washing their hands.
Again, there have been more than a dozen cases of this mystery illness in California and no known cases in Texas.