Polio is a disease you read about in history books. Does it still exist? Is it curable?
Polio does still exist, although polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated more than 350 000 cases to 22 reported cases in 2017. This reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. Today, only 3 countries in the world have never stopped transmission of polio Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria).
Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.
There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. The Polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
Polio, in its most severe forms, can cause paralysis and death. However, most people with polio do not display any symptoms or become noticeably sick. When symptoms do appear, they differ depending on the type of polio.
Symptomatic polio can be broken down further into a mild form, called non-paralytic or abortive polio, and a severe form called paralytic polio that occurs in around 1 percent of cases.
Many people with non-paralytic polio make a full recovery. Unfortunately, those with paralytic polio generally develop permanent paralysis.
Non-paralytic polio symptoms
Non-paralytic polio, also called abortive poliomyelitis, leads to flu-like symptoms that last for a few days or weeks. These include:
- sore throat
- back and neck pain
- arm and leg stiffness
- muscle tenderness and spasms
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Symptoms of paralytic polio often start in a similar way to non-paralytic polio, but later progress to more serious symptoms such as:
- a loss of muscle reflexes
- severe muscle pain and spasms
- loose or floppy limbs that are often worse on one side of the body.
Paralytic polio may also be classified as:
- Spinal polio: The virus attacks motor neurons in the spinal cord that causes paralysis in the arms and legs, and breathing problems.
- Bulbar polio: The virus affects the neurons responsible for sight, taste, swallowing, and breathing.
Bulbospinal polio: The virus causes symptoms of both spinal and bulbar polio.
Complications and post-polio syndrome
The post-polio syndrome describes a cluster of symptoms that affect up to 64 percent of all polio patients. It occurs several years after polio has passed. On average, the post-polio syndrome occurs 35 years after the infection.
Signs and symptoms include:
- muscle and joint pain and weakness that slowly progresses.
- muscle atrophy or shrinkage
- exhaustion for no reason
- swallowing and breathing difficulties
- suffering in colder temperatures
- sleep-related problems, such as apnea
- concentration and memory difficulties
- mood swings and depression
Post-polio syndrome is a slow, progressive disease. There is no cure, but it is not infectious or contagious.