A new strain of Enterovirus, which normally causes respiratory disease, has been linked to a number of pediatric paralysis cases in the U.S. Since August 2014, the study identified 115 cases in 34 states. All of these children developed a sort of paralysis in an arm or leg that also appears in polio.
The research paper was published on Monday March 31 in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. The team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco examined the genetic sequences of Enterovirus 68 taken from 25 children in Colorado and California who have developed paralysis, also known as acute flaccid myelitis.
The team reached the conclusion that this virus is a new stain of Enterovirus 68, which they named B1. Through a method called “molecular clock analysis”, the scientists calculated that this novel virus strain surfaced approximately 4 and a half years ago.
The study’s senior author Dr. Charles Chiu, who is also an associate professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, stated his opinion regarding this link:
“I don’t think it’s coincidental that it’s around the time the first cases were described.”
In 2014, Enterovirus D68 caused numerous severe respiratory infections, mostly in children. By December 2014, there were more than 1,150 children diagnosed with Enterovirus D68.
In the same period, two hospitals (one form Colorado and the other from California) reported a few cases that suddenly developed paralysis, with some of those people testing positive for the same virus strain. But no one was able to demonstrate that Enterovirus 68 was indeed the cause behind this neurological damage as not all children tested positive for this strain.
Many of the children who developed paralysis managed to recover but only partially.
The research implied collecting blood, tissue and fluid samples from 25 patients who developed paralysis and used specialized equipment to look for traces of Enterovirus.
Although the study was conducted on a small scale, with some unanswered questions still present, many, including Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant, a UCSF neurologist who got involved in the treatment of some of the children who developed paralysis, believe the results will encourage scientists to “go back to the bench and try to really understand the neurological complication potential of this virus”.
The study also found that not all children who test positive for this new strain will develop sudden-onset paralysis.
Image Source: The Seattle Times