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Weird New Kid Illness Showing up in the U.S.

Photograph by Getty Images

It's not uncommon for a child to feel weakened by a fever brought on by a cold or flu virus. However, if children suffering a respiratory illness show sudden weakness in arms and legs, parents should seek medical attention immediately. In the last two years, around 20 kids in California who came down with a cold last year wound up with paralyzed limbs. Health officials are still trying to figure out why, and researchers have yet to find a common link among these polio-like cases.

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Two years ago, the New York Times reports, a 4-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., suffered a bout of what her parents thought was asthma. Soon, she couldn't move her left arm, which remains paralyzed.

Five other children, who also reported sudden paralysis just days after getting sick, have yet to recover use of their severely weakened limbs after six months. Tests showed two of those five cases were the result of Enterovirus-68, which is in the same family of viruses as polio, while the other cases did not test positive for that particular strain.

If a child shows any signs of sudden weakness in the limbs or paralysis, parents should get the child to a doctor right away.

Similar cases of paralysis following a cold or respiratory illness were reported in Asia and Australia, the Los Angeles Times has reported. The numbers don't yet constitute an epidemic, though after initial reports earlier this week, a flood of calls came in to doctors all over the country.

Still, epidemiologists aren't yet sounding the alarms. Many infectious diseases contracted during childhood can leave children with paralyzed limbs, doctors say, and its possible the 20 cases of paralysis are due to more than one specific virus. The California Department of Public Health is investigating all cases reported around the state.

It's important for parents to understand that while 20 reported cases is frightening, that's still a relatively small number. Still, now that this possibility is lodged in our minds, the other thing to know is that only a small percentage of people exposed to the polio virus and others like it actually develop any kind of complications, such as paralysis. But if a child shows any signs of sudden weakness in the limbs or paralysis, parents should get the child to a doctor right away.

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All the children who suffered paralysis from this mysterious virus had been vaccinated against polio and doctors urge parents to stay the course in vaccinating their kids.

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