10/01/2014 07:08 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST

Paralysis Cases In Alberta Under Investigation For Enterovirus D68 Link

Picture taken by Sebastian Rose via Getty Images

Alberta Health Services (AHS) says it's investigating four cases of paralysis in children, but the patients have not been diagnosed with Enterovirus D68.

Provincial health officials in B.C. are trying to determine if a man and boy with the illness developed paralysis-like symptoms because of the infections. Doctors are watching the two cases but say it's too soon to say if the virus is the cause. 

Alberta health officials say there has been no paralysis in any of the 50 confirmed EV-D68 cases in the province — 29 of which are in Calgary — but they are keeping a close eye on four pediatric patients to see if there is a link. 

The patients were admitted to the Alberta Children's Hospital over the past week for assessment.

"It could be limb weakness or some facial weakness," said  Dr. Judy MacDonald, Calgary's medical officer of health.

"With those four cases, we do not know if this is Enterovirus D68. Some of them have tested positive for entero-rhinovirus but there's additional testing that will need to be done."

MacDonald says she has also heard reports of two cases in the Edmonton area.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says rhinovirus infections are the cause of about 50 per cent of all common colds and asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases exacerbations, and most are "mild and self-limited."

MacDonald says they are still in the very early stages of testing. Treatments include medications that help the immune system to function better and other supportive treatments, like intravenous fluids and additional oxygen to help with breathing. 

She says a spike in respiratory viruses in children is common in September, but a cluster of cases of paralysis like this is very rare.

"It is the season where we start to coughs and colds, and those type of virus infections," said MacDonald, adding the flu vaccine for this year will be available shortly.

To reduce exposure to Enterovirus D68, AHS recommends Albertans:

- Wash their hands on a regular basis.

- Keep their hands away from their face.

- Avoid people who are sneezing or coughing.

- Stay home if you are sick.

If a child is exhibiting signs of extreme muscle weakness, contact a doctor immediately.

Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief medical officer of health, says it's not uncommon for the respiratory virus EV-D68 to cause mild inflammation of the spinal cord, which can cause temporary paralysis.


Photo gallery Protecting Children From EV-D68 See Gallery