Ottawa polio survivors watch polio-like disease in US
Published Wednesday, February 26, 2014 5:30PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 26, 2014 7:16PM EST
More than a dozen children in California have been affected by a polio-like illness that has left them with paralysis in their arm or leg. It's an extremely rare disease that has polio survivors here in Ottawa taking note. The disease resembles polio, but isn't. The scary part is that so far the paralysis has been permanent in the kids. It’s scary too, for those watching this who survived polio half a century ago, and are now experiencing a resurgence in many of their symptoms.
4-year-old Sophia Jarvis of Berkeley, California was the first to be diagnosed a couple of years ago. She developed flu-like symptoms and was rushed to the hospital. Her left arm is now paralyzed.
“I was with her in the ER when she was having trouble breathing,” says Sophia’s mother Jessica Tomei, “We are so lucky she's still here.”
Doctors say there could be as many as 25 cases in California alone, all with similar symptoms that start with a common cold, and then move quickly to the limbs.
Dr. Keith Van Haren at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University says “All of the children have permanent weakness in the most severely affected limbs.”
The children had all been vaccinated against polio. Experts say this isn’t polio but may be from the same family of viruses.
“This enterovirus is environmental,” says Toronto microbiologist Jason Tetro, “which means, it can be in the water, it can be in the soil, it can be in contaminated food.”
It's all very disturbing to a group of people in Ottawa who had polio more than half a century ago and are now seeing a resurgence in their symptoms. Eileen Lavigne was 12 years old when the virus attacked her left arm. Now, she has problems swallowing, even talking.
“There are people that are having things happen to them they don’t understand,” says Lavigne, who heads up an organization trying to start a support group in Ottawa for post-polio survivors.
Polio attacked more than 100-thousand Canadians during the 40's and 50's until a vaccine eventually wiped it out here. Lavigne wonders about what she's experiencing now and what's going on in California.
“When I read about it, I was very disturbed,” she says. So is Dolin Seenanan who was paralyzed as a baby for two years when she contracted polio. Seenanan, and an estimated 30-thousand other Canadians are now experiencing a resurgence of their symptoms. It's called post-polio syndrome.
"I thought I beat it, too,” she says, “but I know for sure I didn't beat it. It's back again haunting us.”
The medical community stresses the polio-like illness in California is still rare with no common cause. But they are warning parents that if their children suddenly feel weak in their arms or legs, they should seek medical care.
Lavigne’s Polio Syndrome Support Group will meet for the first time March 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Woodroffe United Church.