1 What is Polio?

A contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes difficulty in breathing, paralysis and death is called polio. In 1979, the last case of polio in the U.S happened. Still up to now, polio affects children and adults in Pakistan, Afghanistan and some African countries.

Taking precautions to protect against polio if you are going to travel where you are at risk of polio is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

You should receive a booster dose of inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) even if you had previously vaccinated, this booster will last a lifetime.

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2 Symptoms

Even if polio can lead to paralysis and death, some people does not have any symptoms and doesn’t know they even have polio.

Nonparalytic polio doesn’t lead to paralysis and has flu-like symptoms that lasts up to 10 days such as:

Paralytic polio, a rare kind that can lead to paralytic polio and has different types such as spinal polio (spinal cord), bulbar polio (brainstem) or both (bulbospinal polio). Symptoms are:

  • fever,
  • headache,
  • sever muscle aches or weakness,
  • loss of reflexes,
  • looses and floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis).

Post-polio syndrome that can affect people for several years (average of 35 years) and symptoms include:

  • muscle atrophy,
  • progressive muscle or joint weakness and pain,
  • exhaustion and general fatigue after small activity,
  • sleep related breathing disorders like sleep apnea,
  • swallowing or breathing problems,
  • mood swings or depression,
  • cognitive problems like memory difficulties,
  • decreased tolerance of cold temperatures.

Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is still used in South and Central America, Asia and Africa. Tell your doctor if you are going to travel to these places. Consult your doctor if your child has not yet received polio vaccinations; your child has an allergic reaction to it; you have questions about adult vaccinations; you had polio years ago but now experiencing fatigue and weakness.

3 Causes

Polio is caused by the poliovirus, a highly contagious virus specific to humans.

Polio only affects humans when entering the environment in the feces of the infected person then it will spread through fecal-oral route. It can also be transmitted through contaminated food and water or through direct contact. Polio is contagious and an infected person can spread the virus for weeks in their feces.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Consult your doctor if you just traveled abroad and you have symptoms of polio to receive a diagnosis. Ask your doctor if there are any restrictions that you need to follow before the appointment.

Write down the symptoms you are experiencing and all the medications, supplements and vitamins that you are taking. Write down any recent travels especially in places where polio exist.

Some of the questions that you can ask your doctor include:

  • Do I have polio?
  • What are the other possible causes of polio?
  • What kind of tests do I need?
  • What treatments are available?
  • How long will I fully recover?
  • Am I contagious?
  • Do I need to follow any restrictions?
  • What complications I will get because of polio?

Your doctor will also ask you questions such as:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did you experience it?
  • Have you been with people who have the same symptoms?
  • Have you recently traveled abroad?
  • Are you updated with your vaccinations?
  • Are you pregnant?

Your doctor will first conduct a physical exam to check your back and neck stiffness and other symptoms then he will get a sample of throat secretions, cerebrospinal fluid or stool to check for the presence of polio virus.

5 Treatment

There is no cure for polio, but there are some treatments that help in speeding recovery and preventing future complications. Treatments include:

  • pain relievers,
  • bed rest,
  • nutritious diet,
  • portable ventilators for breathing,
  • physical therapy to prevent deformity and loss of muscle function.

6 Prevention

You can prevent polio by getting a polio vaccine.

Four doses of inactivated poliovirus vaccine are given to children in the U.S. at the following ages:

  • two months,
  • four months,
  • between six and 18 months,
  • between 4-6 years old.

IPV is 90 percent effective after two shots and 99 percent effective after three shots but side effects are pain and redness at the injection site which are common. But for some people it can cause allergic reaction such as:

  • weakness,
  • difficulty in breathing,
  • hives,
  • rapid heart rate,
  • wheezing or hoarseness,
  • swelling of the throat,
  • unusual paleness,
  • dizziness.

Polio vaccine is sometimes given in conjunction with other vaccinations against other diseases such as:

Pediarix combines DTaP, polio vaccine and hepatitis B in to a single vaccine only.

Adults who are at risk of polio should receive a single booster shot of IPV but some people are already immune to polio. If you do not know if you have been vaccinated, get 2 doses of IPV at 4 to 8 weeks interval and the third dose six to 12 months after the second one.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Two of the homeopathic remedies for polio are:

  • Gelsemium – for the pain in the back and neck, weakness and fatigue,
  • Lathyrus sativa – as prevention for polio.

These alternative medicines should be taken with professional advice.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with polio.

Fatigue and weakness can be very difficult especially when you are doing everyday tasks.

You can ask a family member or a close friend for support.

You can even look for a support group in your area for people who are dealing with the same disease so that they can give you advice and at the same time help you cope with polio.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with polio.

The risk factors of polio include:

  • if you have poor sanitation,
  • if you are not vaccinated,
  • if you are pregnant,
  • have weakened immune system,
  • recently traveled to an area where polio is very common;
  • living or taking care of someone who have poliovirus,
  • had your tonsils removed (tonsillectomy),
  • have a compromised immune system such as HIV infection,
  • dealing with extreme stress or rough activities after being exposed to the poliovirus.

Polio can lead to complications such as temporary or permanent muscle paralysis, deformities of the hips or ankles or feet, disability. But there are treatments for deformities such as surgery and physical therapy. A child who survived polio may have severe disabilities for a lifetime.

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