A mysterious polio-like syndrome has affected as many as 25 California children, leaving them with paralyzed limbs and little hope of recovery.
"What's we're seeing now is bad. The best-case scenario is complete loss of one limb, the worst is all four limbs, with respiratory insufficiency, as well. It's like the old polio," said Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.
The first known case appeared in 2012. Sofia Jarvis in Berkeley began to experience wheezing and difficulty breathing. The 2-year-old spent days in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital Oakland. Doctors thought she had asthma.
On a follow-up visit, her mother Jessica Tomei, 37, realized something else was wrong.
"As we were leaving the doctor's office, I noticed that she went to grab something with her left arm and she stopped, midway," Tomei said.
Eventually Sofia was brought to Van Haren's clinic with "a unique set of symptoms." She was treated with steroids and intravenous immunoglobulin therapy, used to reduce the severity of infections by giving the body antibodies to protect against bacteria and viruses. "None of it helped," said Van Haren, a neurology professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.