As Congress drafts a spending bill to fund the federal government, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants a significant investment to study a polio-like illness that has sickened hundreds, mainly children, across the country.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., held a conference call with reporters Tuesday to call on Congress to provide $1 billion to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research acute flaccid myelitis, a neurological condition that causes arm or leg weakness, loss of muscle tone, facial drooping, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing or respiratory failure.
There have been 116 confirmed cases of acute flaccid myelitis — known as AFM for short — in 31 states this year. In October, the state Department of Health revealed that AFM has been confirmed in 39 New York children.
The number of confirmed cases has spiked every two years since 2014. Four years ago, there were 120 confirmed cases of AFM in 34 states, according to the CDC. In 2015, that number dropped to 22 confirmed cases in 17 states.
The total confirmed cases rose to 149 in 2016, with patients affected in 39 states and the District of Columbia. There were only 33 confirmed cases of AFM in 2017.
The cause of AFM is unknown. The CDC reported that more than 90 percent of patients had a mild respiratory illness or fever before developing the more serious ailment.
The CDC is working to learn more about what is causing spikes in AFM cases. The agency formed a task force this year and it's actively confirming cases of AFM.
"I'm relieved that they are taking on this mission and now Congress needs to make sure that they have the funding they need to get the job done," Gillibrand said.
In a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, Gillibrand urged them to include $1 billion in the spending bill to support the CDC's AFM task force. She compared the level of funding to appropriations for addressing avian flu, Ebola and the Zika virus.
Congress allocated $3.3 billion for the flu response, Gillibrand noted. Efforts to respond to Ebola and Zika received at least $1 billion each.
There should be the same urgency about AFM, Gillibrand said.
"As a senator and a mom, I'm taking this disease extremely seriously," she added.