Via Nature News & Comment: Mystery childhood paralysis stumps researchers. Excerpt:
Since August 2014, more than 100 children and young adults in the United States have developed a mysterious paralysis. Many of them had fevers before losing strength in one or more limbs, and the cases coincided with a wider epidemic of a little-known respiratory pathogen. That virus, enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), is the leading candidate for the cause of the paralysis, which few children have recovered from.
Yet researchers have not definitively linked the two, or determined how the virus could cause the children’s symptoms. A study published on 28 January in The Lancet that describes a cluster of cases from Denver, Colorado, strengthens the link, but falls short of providing a 'smoking gun'. Here is what we know about the virus — and what scientists are trying to find out.
What is EV-D68?
It belongs to the enterovirus family, which includes poliovirus and the pathogens that cause common colds; it is most similar to the rhinoviruses that cause respiratory infections. Although EV-D68 was first isolated in the 1960s, it is relatively uncommon among enteroviruses circulating worldwide.
However, since August 2014, the virus has been linked to more than 1,000 respiratory infections in the United States, some of them severe, and France has seen cases, too. John Watson, a medical epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, says that last year, EV-D68 was the predominant type of enterovirus circulating in the country. “That’s a first,” he says. Genome sequencing of viruses recovered from respiratory cases in St Louis, Missouri, shows that the EV-D68 strain circulating in the United States is most closely related to viruses that caused a pneumonia-like illness in three children in Thailand in 2011.
What is the evidence that links EV-D68 to the cases of paralysis?
It has mostly to do with the timing: the cases of paralysis appeared during a wider outbreak of EV-D68, says Watson, whose team at the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases is investigating the link. Researchers detected EV-D68 in nasal swabs from 8 out 41 people with paralysis who were tested, and another 9 people tested positive for related viruses.