In the past two years, more than 20 children in California have developed polio-like symptoms with paralysis of one or more limbs, according to a press release by the American Academy of Neurology. But the symptoms are not caused by the poliovirus, according to the neurologists who examined five of the patients. There are no signs that the children will ever recover from their paralysis. The most likely hypothesis is that if there is a common cause for these cases of paralysis, it is probably a new virus.

Before we all panic, we should note that these newly identified cases of childhood paralysis are still extremely rare. And so far there is no evidence that the disease has ever been transmitted from one patient to another.

The fact that 20 cases of partial paralysis in California were linked together and identified as a potential new disease is a tribute to the vigilance and power of our current disease surveillance system. The California Department of Public Health is working to identify other cases and to determine the common cause (if there is one). I have no doubt that they’ll get to the bottom of this. I’ll bet that within a year we’ll know the cause and be close to either a cure or a preventative measure.

There were outbreaks of polio nearly every year throughout first half of the 20th century. Tens of thousands of children suffered various levels of paralysis before the Salk vaccine became available in 1955. These days the whole cycle of disease identification and research leading to a cure is much quicker.

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