What is Polio Disease?

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The last case of naturally occurring polio in the United States occurred in 1979 but the disease is still prevalent in countries like Nigeria and Afghanistan, according to the Mayo Clinic. Polio is a disease that is highly contagious and can result in deadly complications.


  • Poliovirus, the virus that cases polio, is transmitted by coming into contact with infected materials and then introducing the bacteria to the body through the mouth or nose. It then is absorbed and travels throughout the body in the bloodstream. The virus can also be transmitted through person to person contact and ingesting contaminated foods and water, most commonly in unsanitary locations. Even phlegm and mucus from the throat and nose can carry the poliovirus.


  • There are two types of polio, paralytic and non paralytic. Non paralytic polio does not cause paralysis and can result in 2 to 10 days of fever, sore throat, vomiting, head ache and other flu like symptoms. Paralytic polio can cause constipation, drooling, muscle pain, muscle weakness, paralysis which can sometimes appear suddenly. In bulbar and bulbospinal polio, paralysis can affect respiratory and heart function which can lead to death if proper support isn't available.


  • Polio can cause permanent and temporary paralysis, muscular deformity and lung problems. Lung problems caused by polio include aspiration pneumonia which is pneumonia caused by foreign materials like water, food and bile that get into the lungs and cause an infection. Polio can also deform the feet, hips and ankles. Permanent spinal cord and nerve damage are also possible complications of polio.


  • At this time, there is no cure for polio so the focus of polio treatment is to make those affected by the disease as comfortable as possible and prevent any further complications. Bed rest, medications for pain, light exercise in some cases and antibiotics for secondary infections not caused by the poliovirus are advised for polio sufferers. Portable ventilators are used for those that experience reduced lung function or are unable to breath on their own due to paralysis.


  • A polio vaccine is the most effective way to prevent getting the poliovirus. In the United States, increased sanitation practices help in reducing the prevalence of polio but children under the age of 6 should still be vaccinated. Polio vaccines for children should be administered at 2 months, 4 months, between 6 and 18 months, and they should receive a booster shot before attending school at age 6. After the first 2 shots, the polio vaccine is 90 percent effective and 99 percent effective after the third shot. Most adults have developed a natural immunity to the poliovirus so vaccines are usually not necessary.


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