Polio

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus. The virus is contagious and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis (can’t move parts of the body). It primarily affects children under the age of five.

Although there is no cure for polio, immunization is the most effective strategy to prevent children from the disease. Each time a child under the age of five is immunized, his or her immunity to the virus improves. Repeated vaccines have saved millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries to achieve polio-free status.

Pakistan is one of the two last countries remaining to be free of this illness. Afghanistan is the other country.

Rotary International’s president Jennifer Jones and her team visited Pakistan in August 2022, ahead of World Polio Day. The team was comprised of women, to promote female health workers in the world. They are important for their role in protecting children from polio, as more than 60% of vaccinators in Pakistan are women.

Eradicating polio and making the world completely free of this incurable disease has been one of the most ambitious global health goals set in history, which currently stands at 99.9%

Symptoms

Most persons who become infected with poliovirus do not show any obvious symptoms. One in every four people (or 25 out of every 100) infected with poliovirus will experience flu-like symptoms, which can include:

• Sore throat

• Fever

• Tiredness

• Nausea

• Headache

• Stomach pain

These symptoms often persist for 2 to 5 days before going away on their own. A lesser number of those infected with the poliovirus will develop other, more serious symptoms affecting the brain and spinal cord, such as:

• Meningitis- Infection of the spinal cord and/or brain which happens in 1-5 people out of every 100 with poliovirus infection, depending on the virus type.

• Paralysis- Approximately 1 in 200 to 1 in 2000 people who are affected with poliovirus are unable to move parts of their bodies or have weakness in their arms and legs. Because it damages the muscles that help a person breathe, between 2 and 10 individuals out of every 100 who develop paralysis from poliovirus infection die.

Prevention

There are two types of vaccines that can prevent polio:

• Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) is administered as an injection in the patient’s leg or arm, depending on their age. Since 2000, IPV has only been utilized in the United States.

• Oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) is still used throughout much of the world. Children are protected by the polio vaccine because it prepares their bodies to resist the poliovirus.

Almost all children (more than 99 percent) are protected from polio if they receive all the necessary doses of inactivated polio vaccine.

It is also crucial to practice proper hygiene and wash hands frequently with soap and water. It is important to note that alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not kill poliovirus.

Diagnosis

If a doctor suspects a patient has polio, they should immediately hospitalize the patient, perform a physical exam, obtain a detailed medical history- including vaccination history- collect samples (stool, throat swab, blood, urine, and spinal fluid), and obtain an MRI to examine images of the spinal cord. Poliovirus is most likely to be found in feces samples.

Treatment

There is no cure or specific treatment for paralytic polio. Physical or occupational therapy can help with arm or limb weakness and may help improve outcomes in the long-term, especially if started early in the illness. Doctors should consult neurology and infectious disease experts on a case-by-case basis to assess various therapy options and prescribe specific measures.