The first known case appeared in
2012. Sofia Jarvis in Berkeley began to experience wheezing and
difficulty breathing. The 2-year-old spent days in the intensive care
unit at Children’s Hospital Oakland. Doctors thought she had asthma. On a follow-up visit, her mother Jessica Tomei, 37, realized something else was wrong.
we were leaving the doctor’s office, I noticed that she went to grab
something with her left arm and she stopped, midway,” Tomei said. Eventually
Sofia was brought to Van Haren’s clinic with “a unique set of
symptoms.” She was treated with steroids and intravenous immunoglobulin
therapy, used to reduce the severity of infections by giving the body
antibodies to protect against bacteria and viruses. “None of it
helped,” said Van Haren, a neurology professor at the Stanford
University School of Medicine.
“We don’t have a final case count, but it’s
probably in the neighborhood of 25 cases, all in California,” said Van
Haren. The median age of those stricken is 12.
The children don’t have
polio, but their symptoms look much like the disease that terrified
generations of parents beginning in the 1890s. Patients lose the
ability to move their arms or legs, which “just dangle, like empty
balloons,” Van Haren said. Because the children can’t move their limbs,
the muscles atrophy and the limb shrivels.
cause of most of these cases is not known. Some clinical and laboratory
features, such as the pattern of inflammation seen in the spinal cord
on MRI, are consistent with a viral process,” said Glaser. Van Haren suspects the culprit is an enterovirus.
That is a family of viruses that includes polio but also the milder
hand, foot and mouth disease, common in infants and children. Unfortunately while there’s a vaccine for the polio virus, “we don’t have vaccines for the other enteroviruses,” Van Haren said.