Via USA Today, a report about seven-year-old Bziley Sheehan: Children with polio-like illness continue to struggle. Excerpt:
One night, a few days after her respiratory illness appeared, Bailey couldn't summon the strength to pick up her 4-month-old sister. The next morning, Bailey couldn't lift her neck or arms.
When she tried to stand up, she collapsed. "She said, 'Mommy, my legs aren't working,'" says her mother, Mikell, who rushed her to the emergency room.
An hour and a half later, as nurses examined her, Bailey said, "I can't feel my leg."
Bailey's right leg was numb from above her knee to below her ankle. Her right arm was numb from the shoulder to her elbow.
"Doctors just kept saying, 'We don't know what this is,' " Sheehan says.
Bailey's symptoms would have been familiar to many doctors in the 1950s, when the USA was gripped by annual polio outbreaks.
These days, thanks to the polio vaccine, such a fast-moving, devastating paralysis is rare. A neurologist might see only one or two cases in her entire career, says Jim Sejvar, a neuroepidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet last fall, some large hospitals saw two or three children with polio-like symptoms per week, Sejvar says.
Bailey is one of at least 112 children in 34 states who have developed sudden, severe muscle weakness, officially known as acute flaccid myelitis, since September, according to the CDC. Like polio, the paralysis occurred largely on one side of the body.
Only one of the children has completely recovered, according to the CDC. Although two-thirds have improved somewhat, many continue to struggle. Most children afflicted by polio were left with lasting disability, Sejvar says.
"It's my worst nightmare," says Sheehan from Welches, Ore. "The pain you see in your child's face – they just want you to fix it, and you don't know how. They want the doctor to fix it, and the poor doctor doesn't know how."
Bailey has lost more sensation since October, when the paralysis developed. A larger portion of her thigh is numb. She's lost most of the vision in her left eye.
The cause of Bailey's disability – and how to treat it and prevent it – remain unknown.