Sofia Jarvis was only 2 years old when, as she reached for a toy, her left arm abruptly stopped working. An MRI showed a spinal cord lesion, and an evaluation at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford confirmed that she is among 16 children in California who have developed sudden-onset, permanent paralysis similar to polio.
“Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome,” says pediatric neurologist Keith Van Haren, MD, who diagnosed Sofia.
Doctors at the California Department of Public Health suspect enterovirus-68, a member of the poliovirus family, in cases like Sofia’s, though they’re also considering non-infectious causes. The group of cases, which began in mid-2012 and apparently ended in late 2013, is similar to recent outbreaks of paralysis from another virus, enterovirus-71, in Asia and Australia.
“Fortunately, this is not exceptionally virulent,” Van Haren says. “It’s just happening in the very unlucky few.”
But public health officials are keeping a close watch on the situation.
Meanwhile, Sofia, now 4, is generally healthy, but her arm is still paralyzed. “We really want to know what caused this,” says her mother, Jessica Tomei.