Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a highly contagious vaccine-preventable disease that is caused by the poliovirus. Polio is most common in infants and young children, but adults who are not fully immunized can also get polio.
It causes mild or no symptoms in most people, but in some people it can cause paralysis or death.
There are three variations of poliovirus, called wild poliovirus type 1, 2 and 3 (WPV1, WPV2 and WPV3). Wild polio types 2 and 3 have been eradicated (no longer exist), and wild polio type 1 only exists in a few parts of the world. Polio type 1 is most likely to cause paralysis.
Between 70% and 95% of people infected with poliovirus don’t have symptoms. Here are the symptoms of different types of polio –
▪︎ Abortive poliomyelitis
Abortive poliomyelitis symptoms are similar to many other illnesses. They start three to seven days after getting infected and last a few days. Symptoms of abortive poliomyelitis include:
• Diarrhea or constipation.
• Sore throat.
▪︎ Non-paralytic poliomyelitis
Non-paralytic poliomyelitis starts with the same symptoms as abortive poliomyelitis. Additional symptoms start within a few days, including –
• Neck stiffness.
• Pain or pins-and-needles feeling in your arms and legs.
• Severe headache.
• Sensitivity to light (photophobia).
▪︎ Paralytic poliomyelitis
Paralytic poliomyelitis starts out with symptoms similar to abortive poliomyelitis or non-paralytic poliomyelitis. Additional symptoms can appear days or weeks later, including:
• Sensitivity to touch.
• Muscle spasms.
• Spinal poliomyelitis makes it so you can’t move your arms or legs or both (paralysis).
• Bulbar poliomyelitis makes it hard to breathe, swallow and speak.
• Bulbospinal poliomyelitis has symptoms of both spinal and bulbar polio.
▪︎ Polio encephalitis
It is a rare type of polio that mostly affects infants. It causes brain swelling.You can have symptoms of polio encephalitis on their own or along with flu-like symptoms. Symptoms include –
• Extreme tiredness (fatigue).
• Trouble focusing.
▪︎ Post-polio syndrome
It happens when symptoms of polio come back years after a polio infection.
As a highly contagious virus, polio transmits by poliovirus through contact with infected feces. Objects like toys that have come near infected feces can also transmit the virus. Sometimes it can transmit through a sneeze or a cough, as the virus lives in the throat and intestines. This is less common.
It can spread by:
• Not washing your hands after going to the bathroom or touching poop (like changing diapers).
• Drinking contaminated water or getting it in your mouth.
• Eating foods that have touched contaminated water.
• Swimming in contaminated water. Water can become contaminated when someone who has diarrhea swims in it.
• Coughing or sneezing.
• Being in close contact with someone with polio.
• Touching contaminated surfaces.
Risk Factors –
You’re most at risk for polio if you aren’t vaccinated and you –
• Live in or travel to an area where polio hasn’t been eliminated.
• Live in or travel to an area with poor sanitation.
• having weakened immune system — such as those who are HIV-positive
• Are under 5.
• Are pregnant.
Your doctor will diagnose polio by looking at your symptoms. They’ll perform a physical examination and look for impaired reflexes, back and neck stiffness, or difficulty lifting your head while lying flat.
Labs will also test a sample of your throat, stool, or cerebrospinal fluid for the poliovirus.
There are no specific cure or medications to treat this condition. If you have paralytic polio, you’ll receive physical therapy. If your breathing muscles are weakened or paralyzed, you’ll need mechanical ventilation, a machine that helps you breathe.
You might be able to improve your symptoms by:
• Drinking fluids (such as water, juice and broth).
• Using heat packs to help muscle aches.
• Taking pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®).
• Doing physical therapy and any exercise recommended by your healthcare provider.
• Getting plenty of rest.
The best way to prevent it is to get the vaccination. Children should get polio shots according to the vaccination schedule presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC vaccination schedule
• Age 2 months – One dose
• 4 months – One dose
• 6 to 18 months – One dose
• 4 to 6 years – One dose
There are two types of vaccines: live-attenuated (oral) and inactive. The inactive vaccine is used in most parts of the world, including the Americas and Europe. The live vaccine is only used in parts of the world where polio still occurs naturally.
• Inactivated polio vaccine
The inactive polio vaccine (IPV) contains poliovirus that’s been treated (“killed”), so it can’t multiply anymore. It has an inactive version of polio types 1, 2 and 3. IPV is given as a series of shots (injections). You can’t get sick from an inactive vaccine or spread this condition to others after getting it.
• Oral polio vaccine (live-attenuated)
Oral polio vaccines (OPV) use a live virus that’s been weakened (attenuated), so it shouldn’t make you sick. OPV can contain one, two or all three types of poliovirus (monovalent, bivalent or trivalent vaccines). You get the vaccine in a liquid that you swallow.
OPV creates an immune response in your intestines (mucosal immunity), where poliovirus multiplies, so it can provide better protection than a shot. It also ends up in your poop (stool), so vaccine protection can spread to people you’re in close contact with, even if they’re not vaccinated.
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