NEW YORK – Health officials are investigating nine cases of muscle weakness or paralysis in Colorado children and whether the culprit might be a virus causing severe respiratory illness across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday sent doctors an alert about the polio-like cases and said the germ – enterovirus 68 – was detected in four out of eight of the sick children who had a certain medical test. The status of the ninth case is unclear.
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The virus can cause paralysis but other germs can, too. Health officials don’t know whether the virus caused any of the children’s arm and leg weaknesses or whether it’s just a germ they coincidentally picked up.
“That’s why we want more information,” and for doctors to report similar cases, said the CDC’s Dr. Jane Seward.
The cases occurred within the last two months. All nine children are being treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, and most are from the Denver area. A hospital spokeswoman said the patients’ families didn’t want to talk to the media.
The nine children had fever and respiratory illness about two weeks before developing varying degrees of limb weakness. None seems to have a weak immune system or other conditions that might predispose them to severe illness, but the cases are still being investigated, Seward said. Investigators don’t think it’s polio – eight of the nine children are up to date on polio vaccinations. It’s not known whether the limb weakness or paralysis is temporary or will be long-lasting.
The cases come amid an unusual wave of severe respiratory illness from enterovirus 68. The germ is not new – it was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before, including in Georgia and Pennsylvania in 2009 and Arizona in 2010. Because it’s not routinely tested for, it’s possible the bug spread in previous years but was never distinguished from colds caused by other germs.