On February 27, Dr. Vincent Racaniello wrote a very informative post on his virology blog: Polio-like paralysis in California. This is the best general overview I've seen on the cases. Excerpt (but read the whole post):
What is a polio-like illness? Acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) is the term used to describe the sudden onset of weakness in limbs. AFP can have many etiologies, including viruses, bacteria, toxins, and systemic disease. It is used by the World Health Organization to maximize the ability to detect all cases of poliovirus. Confirmation that AFP is caused by poliovirus requires demonstration that the virus is present in the infected individual.
Is poliovirus the cause? I do not believe that poliovirus is causing the paralysis of children in California. I understand that they have all been immunized against poliovirus. In addition, should immunization have failed in any of these children, it seems unlikely that wild type polioviruses would be circulating in this area. Vaccine-derived polioviruses can cause paralysis but the US has not used this type of vaccine since 2000.
What might be causing the paralysis? AFP has both infectious and non-infectious etiologies. One possibility is that a non-polio enterovirus is involved. Poliovirus is classified within the genus Enterovirus in the family Picornaviridae. Other enteroviruses besides poliovirus are known to cause paralytic disease, such as Coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and many enteroviruses including types 70, 71, 89, 90, 91,96, 99, 102, and 114.
Most enterovirus infections can be associated with different clinical syndromes besides paralysis (such as respiratory disease), and therefore diagnosis is difficult. Stool is generally the most sensitive specimen for establishing an enterovirus infection. However, the virus may no longer be present at onset of symptoms.
Polio is much easier to diagnose in individuals with AFP from whom virus can be identified: paralysis is the main serious symptom caused by infection. However note that 99 out of 100 poliovirus infections are asymptomatic or present with undifferentiated viral illness.
The incidence of paralytic disease caused by other enteroviruses is even lower – for example 1 in 10,000 EV71 infections are paralytic. If all of the 20 California cases are caused by enteroviruses, this means that there have been many more infections without symptoms.