Poliomyelitis (Polio)

Poliomyelitis (Polio)

What is poliomyelitis (polio)?

Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by three types of poliovirus. The poliovirus is a virus most recognized for its destruction to the nervous system, causing paralysis. According to the CDC, the majority of individuals who are infected with polio, have no symptoms and a few have mild symptoms. Of those persons who do acquire the infection, 1 percent or fewer may develop paralytic disease. Since the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955, infections from the poliovirus have nearly been eradicated. In the U.S., there have been no known infectious or "wild" cases of polio since 1979.

In countries that are poor, underdeveloped and do not have access to the vaccine, polio is still a concern, especially for infants and children. The World Health Organization continues its efforts to eradicate the virus worldwide.

How is poliovirus spread?

Transmission of the poliovirus most often occurs by the fecal-oral route. Usually this occurs from poor handwashing or from ingestion of contaminated food or water. Respiratory secretions also spread poliovirus. Those infected with the virus can excrete the virus in their stool for several weeks. Individuals are most contagious immediately before the onset of symptoms and soon after they appear.

What are the symptoms of poliomyelitis?

Poliovirus infections can exhibit symptoms in varying degrees of severity. The majority of individuals (90 to 95 percent) have no symptoms at all. This is referred to as inapparent infection. The three other categories will be discussed.

The following are the most common symptoms of poliomyelitis. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Abortive poliomyelitis

A mild and short course of the disease with one or more of the following symptoms:

Nonparalytic poliomyelitis

The symptoms for nonparalytic poliomyelitis are the same as abortive poliomyelitis but the headache, nausea, and vomiting may be worse. In addition the following symptoms may occur:

Paralytic poliomyelitis

The symptoms for paralytic poliomyelitis are the same as nonparalytic and abortive poliomyelitis. In addition, the following symptoms may occur:

How is poliomyelitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete physical examination and medical history, the following tests may be completed:

What is the treatment for poliomyelitis?

Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on:

While there is prevention of the poliomyelitis, there is no specific treatment for individuals who become infected. Treatment is supportive, which means that the symptoms may be treated to improve comfort and recovery for the patient. Supportive measures include:

How is poliomyelitis prevented?

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