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more about Polio

Poliomyelitis or Infantile Paralysis

  • Polio is an infection that can affect the whole body, but always affects the nerves and muscles.  It is often transmitted from one person to another by the fecal (i.e. from feces) to oral (mouth) route.  In severe cases, polio can lead to paralysis and death.
  • Since the advent of the polio vaccine in the 1950s there are fewer cases of polio in the developed nations.  There is still no cure for polio.

  • In many cases (90%), the patient may not feel any symptoms.
  • Others will have:
    1. Flu like symptoms
    2. Abdominal pain
    3. Diarrhea
    4. Vomiting
    5. Sore throat
    6. Mild fever
    7. Headache
  • With moderate infection and involvement of the central nervous system (brain and spine):
    1. Symptoms of mild infection
    2. Moderate fever
    3. Neck stiffness
    4. Muscle tenderness and pain in various parts of the body such as the calf (behind the leg)
    5. Back pain
    6. Abdominal pain
    7. Muscle stiffness
    8. Diarrhea
    9. Skin rash
    10. Excessive weakness or fatigue
  • With severe infection of brain and spine:
    1. Symptoms of moderate infection
    2. Muscle weakness and rapid progression to paralysis (loss of function) depending on the nerve involved (i.e., arm, leg)
    3. Muscle pain, tenderness, and spasm (neck, back, arms, or legs)
    4. Inability to bend the neck, keep the neck straight, or lift the arm or leg
    5. Irritability
    6. Abdominal Bloating
    7. Choking
    8. Difficulty making faces or facial expressions
    9. Problems with urinating or bowel movements (Constipation)
    10. Swallowing difficulties
    11. Breathing difficulties
    12. Drooling
  • Complications:
    1. Infections -- urine, lung.
    2. Coma
    3. Difficulty breathing or swallowing may lead to the need of mechanical ventilation (machine that breaths for you) or tube feeding.
    4. Death
    5. Myocarditis -- inflammation of the heart muscle
    6. Post Poliomyelitis Progressive Muscle Atrophy or weakness (PPMA) and motor (controls movements) neuron disease can occur years after the initial infection.

  • Virus infection -- the polio virus is transmitted via ingestion of a virus commonly found in human feces and sewage.  In areas where human sewage is allowed to contaminate the drinking water via dumping (pools, lakes, and rivers) the virus can infect older children and adults who come in contact with these waters when swimming, bathing, or ingesting.
  • The virus may enter through the nose or mouth, then invade the intestine, where they move into intestinal cells and multiply into thousands of new virus particles.  These are then excreted through the stool (for weeks), thereby renewing the cycle and endangering the entire community with the risk of infection.
  • Infection is usually mild with only symptoms of Diarrhea and minor discomfort.  The infection resolves on it's own without much damage to the body.  However, in about 1% of all cases, the virions (virus particles or offspring) enter the blood stream and infect the cells of the nervous system, causing more severe problems, such as muscle wasting, paralysis, Comas, or even death.  Most patients often have full or partial improvement of their muscle functions.

  • History of the illness, symptoms, risk factors, and vaccination
  • Medical exam:
    1. Fever
    2. Breathing problems
    3. Difficulty with making faces, swallowing
    4. Muscle wasting
    5. Absent reflexes, such as the knee jerk reflex
    6. Muscle tenderness or stiffness
    7. Neck stiffness or pain
  • Tests:
    1. Collect the secretions from the throat, obtain stool samples, or perform a spinal tap -- and send to laboratory to confirm diagnosis of polio by demonstrating presence of virions.
    2. Spinal tap done by inserting a needle in between the vertebral bones of the spine and removing a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for analysis.
    3. CSF will show increased white blood cells (cells that fight infection), protein, and pressure.
    4. MRI, CAT scan, and X-Rays done if infection, tumor, or other conditions suspected
    5. The physician will consult with an infectious disease physician, a neurologist (nerve and muscle doctor), and notify the local public health officials.

  • Children at high risk
  • Especially young children not yet toilet trained
  • Adults who have not been vaccinated
  • Travel to areas where sanitation and hygiene are inadequate and polio is present
  • Low socio-economic (poor, under- privileged) class
  • Regions where flies from infected feces are allowed to contaminate food
  • Infected water sources (near sewage dumping grounds)
  • Low body defenses (immunodeficiency syndromes) such as AIDS and cancer
  • Injections -- intramuscular (e.g., DPT vaccine)
  • Injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils)
  • Emotional or physical stress

  • Is aimed at treating symptoms until the illness runs its course
  • For severe illness or new onset, admit to the hospital
  • Bed rest with frequent turning, good skin care, and a good mattress to prevent development of bed (pressure) sores
  • Tylenol and other medications for pain and fever
  • Avoid use of addictive drugs for pain and spasm
  • Antibiotics may be needed for bacterial infections.
  • Medications for Muscle Spasms, urinary problems, or Constipation
  • Dietary evaluation and good diet is necessary.
  • Mechanical ventilation and oxygen therapy, if needed.
  • Respiratory therapists consulted for those with breathing problems
  • Physical therapy works with weak or wasted (atrophic) muscles and to prevent contractures (freezing in one place) of knees and elbows, or to reduce spasm and pain.
  • Speech therapist may be consulted if there are problems with swallowing.
  • Occupational therapist helps the patient with daily activities of living (i.e. eating, typing, reaching for stuff).
  • Braces, special shoes, walkers, canes, wheel chairs, special safety bars for bathrooms, special toilet seats, special beds, and other devices may be ordered for home use.
  • Therapy and nursing may continue to care for the patient after discharge from hospital.

  • If you have any symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Vaccination is recommended for all children.  Ask your doctor for more information on vaccine type and risks.  The vaccine is given worldwide at ages 2, 4, and 6 months and again at 15 and18 months (but only if polio is prevalent in the region).
  • If your child has polio and you have not been vaccinated, you must receive a vaccine ASAP.
  • Vaccines have side effects and are contraindicated in certain conditions (AIDS, cancer, Lymphoma, Leukemia, other immune deficiencies, etc.).
  • If you are pregnant, the oral form of the vaccine is safe, so advise your doctor accordingly.

more about Polio

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