California Polio-Like Virus Still a Mystery

After another California child is sickened with the disease, doctors are searching for the cause

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    NEWSLETTERS

    After another case of a polio-like illness was discovered in Ventura County, doctors are trying to learn more about the potentially dangerous disease. NBC 7's Wendy Fry reports. (Published Friday, Mar 21, 2014)

    Doctors are trying to learn more about a mysterious "polio-like" illness that sickened a new victim in Southern California.

    A 2-year-old boy from Moorpark in Ventura County recently contracted the virus that has left as many as 25 children with paralyzed limbs. The cases have popped up from San Diego to the Bay Area.

    The San Diego County Health Department says the illness is not a public health emergency, but they're watching for new cases and sharing tips on how to prevent it.

    Researchers now say it is probably caused by a variant of a common virus.

    "It's known to be something that can cause respiratory disease in people, a cold perhaps, a common cold," said Dr. Erc McDonald with the county health department.

    Two cases were reported in San Diego in late 2012, and the victims were a teenager and an adult.

    According to McDonald, it’s important to remember that while the disease can paralyze its victims, it is not polio.

    "The other message is that we do have these rare, tragic instances that our state public health department is really doing a diligent effort to find the causes for,” said McDonald.

    Good hygiene is the best way to avoid contracting the disease, McDonald recommends. That includes hand washing – especially after using the restroom – and not sharing food or drink with others. When you’re stick, stay home and don’t share the virus with others.

    Local health agencies are being asked to report potential cases of the little-known virus to the state health department.

    "But the numbers are very, very low. Certainly not something that is on the scale of some of the other public health threats. Something like influenza,” said McDonald. “We've had something like 50 deaths this season from influenza, and that puts it in a little perspective."

    McDonald said the virus that causes that disease was first discovered in California in the 1960s. It is also linked to polio-like disease among children in Asia and Australia.