Polio: What You Should Know About This Crippling Disease

Infectious diseases pose one of the biggest threats to mankind. We have seen impressive advancements in medical sciences over the last two decades, yet many diseases still remain a challenge to global public healthcare systems, killing millions of people each year. While a significant number of pharmaceutical interventions have been developed to date, protecting and saving the lives of the population, there still remains some diseases that are posing as threats, even to medical scientists.

Polio, an infectious disease that is also known as Poliomyelitis, is one of these diseases. The disease is dangerous and often causes crippling long-term side-effects in those who are able to survive the infection. Different categories of the Polio disease exist, some being more dangerous and life-threatening than others. In this publication, we will look at all of the essential factors that the population should know about the Polio infectious disease, and consider the most effective vaccines that can help reduce the prevalence of the condition.

What Is Polio?

Polio is an infection that is caused by a virus. The prevalence of this disease has been declined significantly over the last three decades. Today, the disease is not as much of a threat anymore. Still, however, the general population need to be wary of the symptoms associated with the disease, especially when travelling to specific regions throughout the world. Since the disease easily spreads between people, it is also important to recognize the symptoms at an early stage. This can help to prevent bringing the disease to new areas where Polio has been under control for years.

What Causes Polio?

The Polio infectious disease is caused by a particular virus, known as the poliovirus. This is the only virus that can cause a person to develop Polio. The virus is known to live within the digestive system of the patient, and may also live within their throat. This is a type of virus that can spread from a person who has been exposed to the virus to another person.

How Is Polio Transmitted?

Polio is highly infectious and contagious, which is why it is so important to take the appropriate measures in order to assist with reducing the risk of transmission from infected individuals. People who may be exposed to the virus need to contact their healthcare provider in advance, as special arrangements will usually be made in order to help minimize the exposure of the possibly infected person to those in a healthcare facility that has not been infected with the virus. The virus usually spread through bodily fluids, such as saliva. Thus, when a person who has been infected with Polio sneezes, the virus is present in the fluid that is expelled from their body. Upon contact with another person, they may then contract the virus if they have not been immunized against the virus. The virus can also be transmitted through contaminated water or food.


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What Are The Risk Factors Of Polio?

The Polio viral infection is most common among children who have not yet reached the age of five years. These are the individuals that should be protected mostly against the virus. Any person, however, can become infected with the virus and develop Polio. People who have not been immunized against the disease are at risk, especially when they travel toward a country where the disease is more prevalent.

According to the World Health Organization, the transmission of the viral infection has been reduced by more than 99% from the year 1988. In 1988, over 350,000 patients developed this disease (global statistics). In 2017, there were only 22 cases of the disease reported throughout the world.

Three particular countries are still considered risk areas where the virus can be transmitted to travellers. Individuals who are planning to travel to Nigeria, Afghanistan or Pakistan should ensure they obtain the appropriate vaccine to prevent them from catching this infectious disease while they are abroad.

 

What Are The Symptoms Of Polio?

There are various symptoms that may be caused by the Polio viral infection. Different classes of the disease exist, which causes specific symptoms. Some classes are less severe, while other classes may cause the patient to experience crippling complications that can cause them to suffer significantly in the long-term. One study found that around 75% of the children who are infected with the virus that causes Polio will be asymptomatic, which means they will not experience obvious symptoms that may point out the presence of the disease. The study also found that around 24% of children will experience mild symptoms. In approximately 1% of cases where a patient becomes infected with the virus, more serious symptoms may develop that can affect their central nervous system.

It may take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop after a person is exposed to the virus that causes this infectious disease. Not everyone will experience symptoms. The virus may be disposed from the person’s body before it can cause them to experience any particular symptoms.

Those who are not asymptomatic may develop the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • A stiff neck
  • A stiff back
  • A loss of appetite
  • Nausea

What Complications Can Polio Cause?

Most people go on to recover from the Polio viral infection without ever experiencing symptoms, which means they do not even know that they have been exposed to the poliovirus. In approximately 1% of those people who are exposed to the Polio virus without being immunized, the virus can start to attack their central nervous system. When this happens, crippling complications may develop that can yield unpleasant long-term effects in the patient.

The disease can cause muscles to become extremely weak. This, in turn, can cause the infected patient to fall easily and to have problems keeping a balance while standing up and walking. These falls can cause fractures and may lead the patient to break their hip, as well as other crucial bones. The broken bones can then cause the patient to experience further complications.

It should be noted that, in modern times, Polio is unlikely to cause severe paralysis among patients that become exposed to the virus, even among those who do develop symptoms. The disease can, however, cause crippling symptoms to show up decades after the patient was initially infected with the virus. In such a case, the virus usually reactivates in the patient’s body.


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How Is Polio Diagnosed?

Early diagnosis of the Polio disease is important as this can help a physician administer appropriate treatment solutions to the patient. In turn, this can help to avoid severe complications, such as crippling deformities and disabilities. It should, however, be noted that there is currently no known cure for the Polio virus. This is why immunization is so important for patients who may be at risk of developing the disease.

Several laboratory tests can be utilized to help identify the presence of the poliovirus in the body of a patient that is suspected to have been exposed to the virus. Testing may include the use of cultures, serology, genome sequencing, and intratypic differentiation. It may take up to 24 hours for some of these tests to provide an accurate result on whether or not the patient has been infected with the virus that causes Polio.

How Is Polio Treated?

No cure is available for the Polio virus, but there are vaccines available that can prevent a person from being infected with the disease. Even though no cure is available, a number of treatments are available for providing relief of the symptoms that a patient may be experiencing after they contract the viral infection. These treatment options may include pain relievers to help reduce pain symptoms in the patient. Some pain relievers may also help to reduce fever.

Individuals who experience respiratory symptoms may be provided with a portable ventilator to help them breathe. When muscle function is reduced, then physical therapy may also be provided to the patient to help ease discomfort and improve the strength of the affected muscles.


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Can Polio Be Prevented?

Two different vaccines have been developed to help prevent people from becoming infected with the poliovirus and developing this infectious disease. These vaccines include:

  • IPV, or the Inactivated Polio Virus Vaccine. This vaccine contains killed viruses that cause the disease. This vaccine is administered through an injection.
  • OPV, or the Oral Poliovirus Vaccine. This vaccine contains attenuated live polioviruses. The vaccine is administered to the patient orally.

Conclusion

Polio, or Poliomyelitis, is an infectious disease that can easily spread from the infected to those who have not been exposed to the virus. Individuals who have not been vaccinated against the disease can then become infected and develop a range of different symptoms, some of which can become life-threatening.

An understanding of the signs related to the disease can help patients detect the presence of Polio early on. This will help them receive earlier treatment and possibly provide for a more positive outcome of their condition. More severe forms of the disease, as well as those individuals who are not treated promptly, can lead to long-term paralytic complications, as well as death.