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U of M researchers identify cause of polio-like illness that sickened six Minnesota kids

A virus is believed to be behind the sickness.

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe they've found the cause behind a polio-like illness that sickened six Minnesota children.

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which is often compared to polio, was found in half a dozen kids from different parts of Minnesota starting in mid-September.

One of the children, a 7-year-old girl, remains hospitalized with the illness, which has caused her to lose all voluntary motor functions.

The other five children required hospital stays ranging from 1-14 days, with two of them requiring inpatient rehabilitation as they recovered.

Now in research published in the CDC's weekly journal, researchers say they believe that the rare, potentially fatal condition is being caused by the presence of a known virus – Enterovirus-D68.

They found E-D68 in the spinal fluid of the girl most seriously affected by AFM, and was found in a mouth swab of another of the children. It's assumed that the virus is behind the onset of AFM in all six children.

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AFM affects the nervous system, causing sudden muscle weakness and other symptoms including drooping of the face or eyelids, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing, and in the most severe cases can lead to paralysis or death.

“Acute Flaccid Myelitis is incredibly scary for patients and families,” said Dr. Heidi Moline, the University of Minnesota’s chief pediatric resident who was the lead author of the report, per KARE 11.

"The fact that we were able to definitively identify the EV-D68 virus as the cause of paralysis in one of our Minnesota patients does suggest this virus as a probable cause in our other recent AFM cases.."

While the virus has been identified, there remains uncertainty over the best way to treat it, with the Star Tribune noting that patients had received multiple treatments over the course of their illness, and it's not clear yet what did and didn't work.

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