Child’s autopsy from 2008 becomes a clue to mystifying polio-like illness

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Within days, the boy went from having cold symptoms to being unable to walk. To Peter Wright, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, it looked similar to polio — a condition not seen in the United States anymore. It had to be something else.

The case occurred back in 2008, and tragically, the 5-year-old New Hampshire boy died. But his family permitted the scientific team to conduct an autopsy, to help solve “the mystery around the child’s death and illness,” Wright recalled. The researchers found something unusual: evidence of a common pathogen called an enterovirus, but in the fluid that bathes the spinal cord.

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