What you should know about the disease — and vaccines.
- Kids, babies vulnerable
- Disease paralyzed tens of thousands kids pre-’60s
- Infectious virus can cause paralysis and death, infecting spinal cord, brain, nervous system
Polio (SN) | “Polio” is the short term that derives from its original form “poliomyelitis”.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease that largely affects children under 5 years of age. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus.
The virus spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis (can’t move parts of the body).
Of the 3 strains of wild poliovirus (type 1, type 2 and type 3), wild poliovirus type 2 was eradicated in 1999 and no case of wild poliovirus type 3 has been found since the last reported case in Nigeria in November 2012. Both strains have officially been certified as globally eradicated. As at 2020, wild poliovirus type 1 affects two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Most people who get infected with poliovirus (about 72 out of 100) will not have any visible symptoms.
About 1 out of 4 people (or 25 out of 100) with poliovirus infection will have flu-like symptoms that may include:
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
These symptoms usually last 2 to 5 days, then go away on their own.
A smaller proportion of people (much less than one out of 100, or 1-5 out of 1000) with poliovirus infection will develop other, more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord:
- Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
- Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain) occurs in about 1 out of 25 people with poliovirus infection
- Paralysis (can’t move parts of the body) or weakness in the arms, legs, or both, occurs in about 1 out of 200 people with poliovirus infection.
Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio, because it can lead to permanent disability and death. Between 2 and 10 out of 100 people who have paralysis from poliovirus infection die, because the virus affects the muscles that help them breathe.
Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults, 15 to 40 years later. This is called post-polio syndrome.
Note that “poliomyelitis” (or “polio” for short) is defined as the paralytic disease. So only people with the paralytic infection are considered to have the disease.
Polio has been around since ancient times. This ancient Egyptian tomb painting shows a man with a withered leg unable to bear weight without use of a walking stick. This means that most muscle fibers are replaced with scarring (muscle-wasting) that is permanent.
If someone had polio as a child or young adult but had kept or recovered some or all movement of weakened arms or legs, even to the point of being athletic afterward, they can risk becoming weaker in late adulthood. That is post-polio syndrome (PPS), a condition that can affect polio survivors decades after they recover from their initial poliovirus infection. Some PPS patients become wheelchair-bound when they had not been before.
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