Stanford doctor studying partial paralysis cases in children

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Friday, October 3, 2014
Stanford doctor studies partial paralysis cases
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A Stanford doctor is studying partial paralysis cases in children.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The local medical community and public health agencies are shifting into high gear as a very contagious virus targeting children and young people surfaces in the Bay Area. And there's an appeal for the public's help. The virus is called enterovirus D68 and there are now three cases in the Bay Area. It can lead to partial paralysis.

Dr. Keith Van Haren has been reviewing each case of partial paralysis in children for the state health agency. He's a pediatric neurologist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. With enterovirus D68 he has noticed a pattern.

"There are different severities of weakness. Some may affect one, two, three or even four limbs, but the virus does stop on its own at some point," said Van Haren.

There are hundreds of enteroviruses, and knowing whether it's D68, like the two cases in Alameda County, leads to different treatment options. He says administration of steroids, which might be used for most strains, might lead to complications for addressing D68.

"This can be figured out very quickly with an old-fashioned history from the patient and family, a spinal tap, and an MRI of the spine. And when those things are complete, they can be done within the same day, we usually have a sense what the diagnosis is," said Van Haren.

Sofia Jarvis of Berkeley is among the patients Dr. Van Haren has treated for paralysis in the left arm. It is known as flaccid paralysis. As you can see, the arm is limp. Sofia's mother says her 4 year-old daughter did not test positive for D68 enterovirus. However, Dr. Van Haren says the symptoms are similar. The condition can be life-changing for the child.

"When we go to the park, and you just can see, you know, when a little kid goes to the park, and she loves to climb, and you can just see, there's certain things she can't do when she's there," Sofia's father Jeff Jarvis told ABC7 News in February.

Dr. Van Haren says these are the warning signs of D68.

"Usually the patients have, before they develop neurology, they have a fever, they often have headache, neck pain, back pain or pain in the limbs that either accompanies or immediately, and by immediate I mean hours, precedes the weakness," said Van Haren.