Is The Polio Virus Making Its Way Back To The US?


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Is the polio virus making its way back to the United States? Well, not officially, but a new polio-like virus has made an appearance in California, and has currently affected more than 20 children since 2012. Five new cases this year are the focus of doctors, as of right now.

The United States has been free from the polio virus for nearly 30 years, after a vaccine was developed in the 1950s. The only countries known to still have polio outbreaks are Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

"Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome," Keith Van Haren, MD with Stanford University said. "In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia. These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California."

While experts have said that the California outbreak is not polio, the new condition has doctors stumped as to what exactly it is. Doctors believe the virus to be enterovirus-68, which is a close relative to polio, and has similar symptoms. The symptoms of the polio-like virus include: restricted movement, weakness in the extremities, and even paralysis in the arms and legs.

People throughout the country, especially in California, are panicking over the new findings. However, doctors are claiming that the virus is very rare, and they do not believe it to be spreading rapidly.

A neurologist at the University of California, Dr Emanuelle Waubant, explained to the BBC that he does not believe that the United States has an epidemic on their hands.

There has been no obvious increase in the pace of new cases so we don't think we're about to experience an epidemic, that's the good news.

But it's bad news for individuals unlucky enough to develop symptoms which tend to be moderate to severe and don't appear to improve too much despite reasonably aggressive treatment.

Doctors believe the disease to be very rare, however they are stressing that parents take their children to the doctor as soon as they start experiencing symptoms.

"Our findings have important implications for disease surveillance, testing and treatment," Van Haren said. "We would like to stress that this syndrome appears to be very, very rare. Any time a parent sees symptoms of paralysis in a child, the child should be seen by a doctor right away."

Image via Wikimedia Commons