Sen. Klobuchar meets with families impacted by polio-like illness

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Families with kids impacted by a polio-like illness met with Senator Amy Klobuchar Thursday to talk about steps toward finding a cause and cure.

Just hours before, Senator Klobuchar received a letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which answered some of the many questions surrounding this rare, mystery illness. 

One of the biggest objectives concerned parents brought up to Senator Klobuchar is not only finding a cause and cure, but also raising awareness. The goal is getting kids diagnosed and treated more quickly and making reporting this disease a mandatory requirement across the country. The only way to eventually get to a vaccine is to be able to research as many cases as possible. 

Elaine Elizabeth Eller Young considers her four-year-old son, Orville, one of the lucky ones.

“Having an arm paralyzed is a big deal, but he can breathe on this own,” said Eller Young. “That’s the most important thing because a lot of these kids can’t.” 

Orville is still waiting for confirmed AFM testing results. He joined several other families battling AFM in a round table discussion with local health officials and Senator Klobuchar. 

To date, the CDC confirms 62 cases of sudden onset AFM in 22 states, which includes six cases in Minnesota and at least a seventh pending. Nationwide, more than 150 cases have been investigated since 2014. Nearly all the cases involve children. 

The CDC doesn't know if the polio-like virus is caused by a virus, the environment or something else. 

“I think part of this is pushing for the data, so we can understand who’s getting it and why, but also pushing them to figure out what’s wrong,” said Klobuchar.

“When it comes to acute flaccid myelitis there is a lot of unknowns,” said Kristen Ehresmann, state director of infectious diseases. “One of the things that has been identified in a number of cases is they have a viral illness that proceeds their muscle weakness.”

Minnesota Department of Health officials say for all seven cases in Minnesota kids reported having a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness in the days prior to neuralgic symptoms. That's what happened with Orville before his arm went limp. For now, his mom and others are comforted to know they are not alone in the quest for answers.

“These are our kids and they are being paralyzed and some of them are paralyzed for the rest of their lives,” said Eller Young.

The health department acknowledges the recommendations may seem overly simple, but the best way to keep your family healthy is to wash hands, stay home if you are sick and cover your cough. While it’s late in the season, protection against mosquito bites could also help. A possible link to the West Nile Virus is one of the many potential causes the CDC is exploring.