Polio 101: Signs, Symptoms, and Risks


Poliovirus, an ancient virus, has paralyzed and killed humans for centuries. Inscriptions on Egyptian pots show people withered on crutches.

It hits children younger than 5 the hardest, the worst form of the virus causing nerve injury that can lead to paralysis, difficulty breathing, and death. During epidemics of the 20th century, the virus often circulated in the hot summer months, sweeping through towns and cities every year or so.

Polio was one of the most terrifying diseases in the world until Dr. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine and tested its safety in 1954.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that “in the early 1950s, before polio vaccines were available, outbreaks of polio caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year” in the United States. “Parents were afraid to let their children go outside, especially in the summer when the virus seemed to be at its peak.”

By 1988, reported cases of polio worldwide had reached their peak 350,000 according to the World Health Organization.

An enterovirus called poliovirus causes polio. There are three strains, two of which have been worldwide eradicated, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a program of the World Health Organization.

However, one type of wild poliovirus still circulates in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and travelers can pick it up and transmit it around the world. “It only takes one passenger with polio to transmit the disease to the United States,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Transmission can also occur when not enough children in an area are vaccinated. This typically occurs with the oral polio vaccine, which was created by Dr. Albert Sabin and first used in 1961. This vaccine formulation contains a mixture of each of the three types of live attenuated strains of poliovirus, according to the Global Virus Partnership Initiative.

“Vulnerable strains are thrown into the environment by vaccinated children through their digestive systems and can be transmitted from one unvaccinated individual to another, a process exacerbated by poor sanitation systems and the absence of clean drinking water,” the Global Initiative for Global Sanitation said.

Once the strain infects an unvaccinated person, it begins to spread and can be carried by traveling around the world.

This may be a factor in the recent polio diagnosis in Rockland County, New York, man, the first case of polio in the United States since 2013, according to the New York State Department of Health.

The health department said in a statement that tests confirmed by the CDC found a type of virus that could have come from a person who received “the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer licensed or given in the United States.”

“This indicates that the virus may have originated outside the United States where OPV is given, because (inactivated) strains cannot emerge from inactivated vaccines,” the statement said.

Various types of oral polio vaccines are used by health professionals around the world because they are inexpensive, easy to use, safe, effective and provide long-term protection. However, Salk’s original inactivated polio vaccine, which is given via a series of injections in childhood, has been the only version used in the United States since 2000, the CDC said.

The polio virus lives in the throat and intestines of an infected person. People who carry the polio virus, including those without symptoms, can spread the highly contagious virus in their stools for weeks. In rare cases, transmission of the virus might happen The CDC said by droplets from sneezing or coughing.

Most people come into contact with polio by picking up a small piece of infected stool and then touching the mouth. Exposure to the virus also occurs in children Oral toys or other objects contaminated with feces.

In unsanitary conditions, the virus can also be spread through contaminated food and water.

Like Covid-19, many cases of polio are asymptomatic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that people are asymptomatic in about 95% of all polio cases.

When symptoms appear, they can take three forms. Flu-like symptoms such as headache, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, fever and fatigue are characteristics of abortive polio.

If these include additional neurological symptoms, such as sensitivity to light or a stiff neck, the person may have non-paralytic polio.

The World Health Organization has said the most dangerous version of polio can cause paralysis within “hours”. The illness begins with flu-like symptoms, then progresses to muscle aches or cramps and loss of reflexes. Paralysis can occur on one side or the other.

Iron lung patients at Baltimore Hospital get televisions for the first time.  Mirrors allow them to watch the broadcast.

Illness can also affect Lungs – Between 5% and 10% of people die when breathing muscles malfunction, according to the World Health Organization. During the epidemics of the 1940s and 1950s, patients were often put into place Iron lung to help them breathe.

However, statistics have shown That in most cases of paralytic polio, the person recovers — less than 1% of people with polio develop paralysis, according to GPEI. Unfortunately, muscle or joint weakness and pain, breathing and swallowing problems, trouble sleeping and intolerance to cold can last a lifetime in some cases. virus The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said she can even hide and lie in hibernation and then reappear years later in what is called post-polio syndrome.

There is no cure for polio, only treatment to relieve symptoms.

“Heat and physical therapy are used to stimulate the muscles and antispasmodic drugs are given to relax the muscles,” the global initiative said. “While this can improve mobility, it cannot reverse permanent polio.”

Vaccination is the only prevention.

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