Polio-like illness baffles doctors

Polio-like illness baffles doctors
Sofia, center, developed the illness over two years ago.
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Doctors are trying to solve a medical mystery in California, where at least five children are suffering from a polio-like illness. The children have severe weakness or paralysis.

Four-year-old Sofia Jarvis was the first to be diagnosed. One morning two and a half years ago, she had difficulty breathing along with flu-like symptoms. Her mother rushed her to the hospital, where she later learned Sofia had a polio-like syndrome. Her left arm is now paralyzed.

"I was with her in the ER, and she had trouble breathing, and we're so lucky she's here because so many people have lost children," said Jessica Tomei, Sofia's mom.

Monday, Sofia's parents joined doctors in Palo Alto, who now say there are at least five but possibly up to 25 cases of the mystery illness in California alone.

"All of the children have permanent weakness in their severely affected limbs," said Dr. Keith Van Haren, Stanford University.

Though doctors stress the number of infected children is small and the illness rare, for now there is little they can do to help their young victims.

Polio was eradicated nearly 30 years ago in this country. The children do not have that illness, although the symptoms are similar.

At Children's Hospital in Oakland, Dr. Christine Aguilar says she's treated at least eight children with the symptoms. There is nothing parents could have done to protect them.

"I think for the most part they've been devastated and wanting answers, but for the most part, we don't have the answers," she said.

Doctors from across the country are working together to identify the illness while children like Sofia battle a devastating sickness attacking young victims with no warning.