Polio (also known as poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious disease that attacks the nervous system. Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to contract the virus than any other group. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in 200 polio infections will result in permanent paralysis. However, the disease has been largely eradicated thanks to the development of a polio vaccine.
Polio is caused by infection with the poliovirus, and is passed on through food and water contaminated with the faeces (stool) of infected people. It can take 4 to 21 days before symptoms appear, and an infected person can pass the virus on to other people even before symptoms appear. Infection with polio happens when the virus enters the body through the mouth, multiplies in the throat and intestine, and spreads through the blood to the central nervous system. Types of Polio There are three types of polio infections: -Sub-clinical – Approximately 95 percent of polio cases are sub-clinical, and patients may not experience any symptoms. This form of polio does not affect the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). -Non-paralytic – It affects the central nervous system, but produces only mild symptoms and does not result in paralysis. -Paralytic – This is the rarest and most serious, and causes partial or full paralysis in the patient. There are three types: spinal (affecting the spine), bulbar (affecting the brainstem), and bulbospinal (affecting the spine and brainstem). Post-polio syndrome is a complication that can occur after a person has caught and recovered from poliovirus. Symptoms of the syndrome can appear up to 35 years after the polio infection.
If patients do have symptoms, they usually last for 72 hours or less and may include: -headache -sore, red throat -slight fever -vomiting -general discomfort.
The symptoms of non-paralytic polio may last for a couple of days to a week or two and includes: -fever -sore throat in the absence of upper respiratory infection -headache -vomiting -fatigue -abnormal reflexes -problems swallowing and/or breathing -back and neck pain and stiffness, particularly neck stiffness with forward flexion of the neck -arm and leg pain or stiffness -muscle tenderness and spasms.
People with paralytic polio experience the symptoms associated with non-paralytic polio first. Soon after, the following symptoms appear: -loss of reflexes -severe spasms and muscle pain -loose and floppy limbs, sometimes on just one side of the body, this is due to the weakness which results from the involvement of the spine -sudden paralysis (temporary or permanent) -deformed limbs (especially the hips, ankles, and feet) due to prolonged weakness and the lack of appropriate orthopaedic bracing. Full paralysis can eventually develop, but it is rare. Only about one percent of all polio cases will result in a person being permanently paralysed. Of those patients who experience paralysis, five to 10 percent will die when the paralysis attacks the muscles that control breathing. Post-Polio Syndrome The symptoms of post-polio syndrome are: -continuing muscle and joint weakness -muscle pain that gets worse -becoming easily exhausted or fatigued -muscle wasting, also called muscle atrophy -shortened limb -trouble breathing and/or swallowing -sleep related breathing problems (sleep apnoea) -becoming easily cold or -new onset of weakness in previously uninvolved muscles. In the case where the virus lies dormant in the bodies of polio sufferers for many years, and becomes active, it may require the patient to walk with a stick or walker. Whatever the cause, the result is a cruel return of symptoms, meaning that many who battled the effects of withered limbs with leg irons and built-up shoes, face the possibility of life in a wheelchair. In the worst cases, there’s reliance on ventilators to supply oxygen to damaged lungs. Diagnosing Polio The doctor may suspect a person has polio if they show symptoms of the condition, such as stiff neck and back, trouble breathing, or nausea. This is particularly true for people who come from a high-risk area, or those who have not been vaccinated against polio. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will take samples from the throat, stool, and the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Treatment
There is no cure for polio. Doctors can only treat the symptoms while the infection runs its course. The most common treatments include: -rest -painkillers to relieve headaches, muscle aches, and muscle spasms -antibiotics for urinary tract infections -portable ventilators to help with breathing -physical therapy and/or corrective braces to help with walking -heating pads or warm towels to ease muscle aches and spasms -physical therapy to treat pain in the affected muscles -physical therapy/ rehabilitation to address breathing and pulmonary problems. In advanced cases of leg weakness, when a patient has difficulty walking, he/she may need a wheelchair or other mobility device.
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