Did Enterovirus D68 Cause Paralysis in 9 Colorado Kids?

Health officials are investigating nine cases of muscle weakness or paralysis in Colorado children to determine if the culprit might be the same virus that is sweeping the nation and causing severe respiratory illness in kids, according to a CBS News report. These cases all happened in the last two months and the nine children are currently being treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

Enterovirus D68 can cause paralysis (considered a rare complication), but with so many virus cases being reported this year it may not be a surprise to see other problems more often, according to Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Because of this possible complication, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out an alert to doctors on Friday, warning them of the polio-like symptoms and saying that the virus — Enterovirus D68 — was detected in four of the sick children. The CDC’s Jane Seward, MD, says they need more information and are asking doctors to report any similar cases.

The nine children had fever and the respiratory illness about two weeks prior to developing varying degrees of limb weakness. And although the cases are still being investigated, none of these children appear to have a weak immune system or other condition that would predispose them to severe illness. The doctors treating them don’t believe it is polio: Eight of the nine kids are up-to-date on their polio vaccinations. It’s not known yet if the limb weakness or paralysis is temporary or will be long-lasting.

Earlier this year, researchers at Stanford University said that they had identified a polio-like illness in about 20 California children over an 18- month period. Two of those kids tested positive for Enterovirus D68. Officials at the CDC say they are still not certain if the virus was a factor in those cases. Dr. Seward said a test that shows the germ in a patient’s spinal fluid would be good evidence that the virus was causing paralysis – but unfortunately, lab tests of spinal fluid often fail to identify bugs like Enterovirus D68, even if they are present.

These cases are more alarming as they come amid an unusual wave of widespread enterovirus illnesses occurring over the last month, when a flood of sick children began showing up at hospitals with severe respiratory problems. Enterovirus D68 has now been confirmed in 40 states.