What are the symptoms, how is it transmitted and is there any treatment?

How is polio diagnosed?

Along with a complete physical exam and medical history, doctors will take cultures of the throat and stool, and sometimes blood levels and cerebrospinal fluid looking for poliovirus.

How does polio spread?

The virus often spreads due to contact with infected faces. This often happens from poor hygiene, particularly handwashing. It can also happen from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

It can also be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes infected droplets into the air.

Those with the virus can excrete the virus in their stool for several weeks. People are most contagious right before symptoms start and soon after they appear.

Who has had polio?

It is estimated that there are around 120,000 people living in the UK who survived polio when they were younger.

Famous people who had polio include Mary Berry, the chef, Neil Young, the musician, Jone Mitchell, the singer, and Donald Sutherland, the actor, Francis Ford Coppola, the director, and David Stakey, the historian.

What is the treatment and can you recover from polio?

There is no specific cure for people who become infected. Treatment is focused on easing symptoms by prescribing pain relief, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Patients are often advised to eat a special diet, partake in minimal activity and use hot packs or heating pads for muscle pain.

Severe symptoms of paralysis can require assistive devices for movement, such as braces, canes, and wheelchairs. Patients may also need breathing help, such as extra oxygen or a ventilator and physical or occupational therapy.

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Some people who have recovered from a mild-bout go on to develop post-polio syndrome, which can lead to persistent fatigue, muscle weakness, shrinking muscles and muscle and joint pain.

Where did polio originate?

Carved plaques from Ancient Egypt around 1500BC, show a priest with a withered leg uing a walking stick, suggesting that polio has been circulating for thousands of years, but it was first described in medical literature by British doctor Michael Underwood in 1789.

The virus was never considered a major problem until the end of the 1800s when outbreaks began to occur in industrialized areas. The first significant outbreak occurred among children in Vermont in the US in 1894.

By the 1940s and 50s, Europe and North America were seeking major outbreaks during the summer, with parents advised to keep children away from public places such as amusement parks, swimming pools, and beaches.

Severe outbreaks were thought to be caused by an improvement of hygiene which stopped young children being exposed, leaving them at greater risk later in childhood.

When did Britain start vaccinating people against polio?

Major outbreaks in the 1940s and 50s led to the acceleration of vaccination programs and by 1955, Dr Jonas Salk had created the first vaccine against polio.

It was immediately taken up by Britain, and in 1961 the UK switched to an oral vaccine which was often dropped onto the tongue or placed on a cube of sugar.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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