Sen. Boxer urges CDC to investigate polio like condition

The Desert Sun – by Victoria Pelham

 Sen. Barbara Boxer is pushing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate a polio-like condition in California that has left children paralyzed in their arms and legs.

“I was alarmed to learn that at least 20 children in California over the last 18 months have suffered from a rare polio-like disease that causes paralysis to one or more arms or legs,” the Rancho Mirage Democrat wrote Thursday in a letter to CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “We need answers to what is causing this devastating disease in children.”  

Boxer asked that the CDC conduct a study to determine where children are getting sick with the condition in California.

boxer_small Sen. Boxer urges CDC to investigate polio like condition

The senator also asked the national health agency to answer what they are doing to identify its cause, whether a virus like an enterovirus could be a cause of the disease, if environmental exposures and stressors could play a part, and whether national reporting of “acute paralytic diseases” had taken place. If not, she also wanted to know why national reporting had not begun.

“These questions must be answered because it is deeply disturbing to read reports of otherwise healthy children experiencing sudden paralysis,” Boxer wrote in the letter.

There have been no reports of the polio-like illness in the Coachella Valley or Riverside County as a whole, said Jose Arballo, a spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Public Health.

“In the entire state, we’re dealing with a relatively small number of children,” said Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer.

He added that anything involving paralysis concerns the department of public health, but the information is highly preliminary.

“We don’t see anything in common with them,” Kaiser said. “They certainly don’t seem to be polio itself.”

“Even though we’re watching the situation very closely, I think it’s a little early for people to be concerned given the fact we’re not quite sure what it is just yet if it’s an infectious agent, if it’s a reaction to an infectious illness,” he said.

A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology investigated five California children with the mysterious condition. All of them reached peak severity within two days, and they had not recovered motor skills at a six-month follow-up visit. Two of the children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus linked in the past with polio-like symptoms.

New strains of enterovirus were discovered in outbreaks of polio-like illnesses among children in Asia and Australia in the past 10 years.

“These cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California,” the academy wrote in a report released last week. “This has important implications for disease surveillance, testing and treatment.”

Kaiser said the department is continuing to follow up with the state, which is leading the investigation into the mysterious cases. Once it has more infection, the county will figure out if it needs to do anything locally.

“I don’t think this is something the general public should be greatly concerned about until we have more information about it,” he said. “Obviously we in the health department are watching it very closely.”

Desert Sun health care reporter Victoria Pelham can be reached at (760) 778-4649 or