World Polio Day is observed every year on October 24, by Rotary International, which aims to spread awareness about polio, its preventative vaccine and to undertake activities to eradicate this debilitating disease, globally.
This health day is earmarked, to commemorate the birthday of the renowned American medical researcher and virologist, Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine in the year 1955. He is universally considered a savior and a miracle worker, as he did not want to patent his valuable vaccine discovery, claiming that ending the polio epidemic was a matter of public health and hence, his moral commitment towards society.
So What Is Polio?
Polio, which is the abbreviated form of poliomyelitis and also called infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused due to the poliovirus.
The most common means by which polio is transmitted is ingesting infected food, containing fecal matter which harbours the contagious virus. An affected person can transfer the disease to a healthy individual even after a month of contracting polio, as symptoms sometimes do not show up immediately.
This disease affects only humans and is naturally rampant in economically weaker sections of society where personal and public hygiene measures are not available or implemented. The causative agent, the poliovirus (PV) is an enterovirus, which infects the gastrointestinal tract upon entering the target human body and it is of three distinct types namely poliovirus type 1 (PV1), type 2 (PV2) and type 3 (PV3). Depending on whether the illness causes nervous system malfunctioning or not, it is classified into two types as:
This illness does not affect the coordination of nerves and mainly gives rise to weakness in the legs.
This type of polio is more serious, as it leads to blockage of transmission of impulses via nerves and hence causes loss of muscle synchronization in performing day-to-day activities.
Also Read: Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Risk Factors Of Polio:
Though the incidence of polio has been significantly reduced in present times chiefly owing to preventive polio vaccination, the debilitating illness that hampers muscle function still arises in a few countries and regions riddled with poverty, poor sanitation, lack of personal hygiene. Furthermore, certain aspects make an individual more prone to contracting the polio virus infection, such as:
- Not having taken the polio vaccine, particularly children below 5 years
- Pregnant women
- A weakened immune system due to pre-existing immunodeficiency conditions like HIV
- Travelling to places where polio infections still occur, as the viral ailment is contagious
Malnutrition, wherein requisite nutrients for muscle growth are not consumed in sufficient amounts, especially in children
The characteristic symptoms of nonparalytic polio include:
- Fevers and throat infections
- Severe headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle stiffness in the back and neck
- Agonizing pain in the arms and legs
In instances of paralytic polio, in addition to the above signs, certain grave indications are also experienced by the affected individual such as:
- Reflexes do not function promptly in response to external sensations such as pain, light and heat
- Acute weakness of muscles
- Limping while walking due to loose limbs (flaccid paralysis)
While polio affects very few individuals nowadays, a major complication of this infectious disorder is the recurrence of discomforting symptoms several years after the ailment has subsided. This happens in the majority of individuals affected by polio and is termed Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS). The onset of post-polio syndrome is usually 15 – 35 years after initial infection by poliovirus. The characteristic symptoms of PPS include:
- Muscle weakness and joint pain that progresses and worsens with time
- Loss of muscle tissue i.e. muscle atrophy
- Struggle with remaining in cold temperatures and chilly environments
- Sleep-related issues like apnea
- Extreme levels of fatigue
- Difficulty in breathing normally and swallowing food
- Impaired memory, concentration and low moods
Prevention, Diagnosis And Treatment:
The standard recommended method of prevention is administering the polio vaccine to infants, in differing doses, at gradually increasing ages.
Also Read: Learn About Various Vaccines For Different Age Groups
The vaccine is of two types – the inactivated polio virus given by injection (IPV) and the weakened poliovirus given orally, i.e. by mouth (OPV). The poliovirus is contained in the vaccine, which enters the bloodstream and antibodies are synthesised to defend it, thereby preventing an attack the next time the virus attempts to invade the body of the person. The vaccine is injected or given as oral drops, to children at 4 distinct stages, at the ages of:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- Between 6 and 18 months
- Between ages 4 and 6
In case poliovirus affects a person, it is advised to immediately see a doctor. He or she will thoroughly check for all external symptoms of back and leg pain and also take a sample of the throat, stool and cerebrospinal fluid secretions (the fluid present in the brain), to confirm the presence of the infectious microbe.
There is currently no cure for polio. The only efficient method to avoid this incapacitating disease is preventive immunisation by vaccines. However, once a person has contracted the poliovirus, the healthcare provider suggests measures to relieve symptoms of pain and muscle weakness such as prescription pain relievers, simple exercises and physical therapy sessions. Focus on providing comfort to the patient and assist in averting any complications.