World Polio Day: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis Of The Deadly Disease

By: Shubham Ghosh

Today is World Polio Day. Polio (poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis) is a highly contagious infection, which can lead to paralysis and even death.

Polio can be symptomatic or asymptomatic. About 95 per cent of the polio cases are asymptomatic in nature.

Though the world has fought well with this disease, which has left several children crippled and dead, there is still a lot to be done to eradicate this deadly disease completely.

Today, only three countries in the world have polio and they are Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. India was officially declared a polio-free country by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in March 2014. The WHO hopes to see a polio-free world by 2018.


Who Are Vulnerable To Polio?
Like many other infectious diseases, the young, expecting mothers and those with a weak immune system are the most likely to get affected by polio. Also, those who have not been administered polio vaccine can get affected by this disease.

How Does The Polio Infection Spread?
Polio can spread from person to another person under the following circumstances:

  • Travelling to countries where polio is still endemic.
  •  Staying in contact with a person who has polio; polio spreads through faeces, cough, sneeze, etc.
  • Consumption of contaminated food and water.
  •  Working in a laboratory where a live poliovirus has been stored for research purposes.

The dangerous part of polio is that its transmission can take place without the display of any symptom.

How Can Polio Virus Affect Us?
Once the poliovirus enters the human body, it infects the cells of the intestine and throat. It takes control of the host's cells. The virus spreads along certain nerve fibre pathways, replicates it and destroys the motor neurons with the spinal cord, brain stem and motor cortex, leaving the affected person crippled. Gradually, the virus affects the entire human body.


Symptoms Of Polio:
As has been mentioned earlier, most of the polio victims don't show any symptoms like falling sick. In case of non-paralytic polio or abortive poliomyelitis, symptoms include fever, sore throat, vomiting, fatigue, back and neck pain, stiffness of arms and legs and even meningitis or infection of the membranes surrounding the brain.

In case of paralytic polio, the virus enters the motor neurons and destroys the cells in the spinal cords, brain stem, motor cortex, etc. Symptoms of paralytic polio are same to the non-paralytic polio to begin with, but it leads to more serious symptoms like loss of muscle flexes, muscle pain and spasms, etc.

Paralytic Polio
Paralytic polio affects only a small percentage of those invaded by the polio virus. In these cases, the virus enters the motor neurons where it replicates and destroys the cells. These cells are normally in the spinal cord, brain stem, or motor cortex - an area of the brain important in controlling movements.

Post-polio Symptoms:
These are a cluster of symptoms that affect up to half the number of polio patients. They can occur several years after the polio has occurred.

Post-polio Symptoms Include:

  • Pain and weaknesses in the muscles and joints
  • Quick fatigue
  • Difficulty in breathing and swallowing
  • Suffering during winter
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Difficulty in memorising and concentrating

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Polio:
Polio is mostly recognised by means of the symptoms like stiffness of neck and back, difficulty in swallowing and breathing, etc. Laboratory tests are conducted to examine the body samples to confirm whether it is poliovirus.

There is no cure for this disease. The best way to deal with it is to take vaccines to prevent it. The general treatment for polio include:

  • Bed rest
  • Painkillers and antibiotics
  • Portable ventilators to help in times of breathing difficulty
  • Physical therapy to treat joint pain
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation to treat lung problems

In case of children, polio vaccination is a must to grow their immunity against the disease. They need to be given vaccines from two months of age to six years. Adults need to take polio vaccines if they are travelling to countries that have high instances of the polio disease.

Read more about: health, wellness, disease, symptoms
Story first published: Monday, October 24, 2016, 10:35 [IST]
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