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Childhood diseases - Polio

Useful information on the background, symptoms and treatment of polio plus advice on the polio childhood vaccine.
Polio (Poliomyelitis) is a virus which attacks the nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that can sometimes cause paralysis. It is caused by a virus called poliovirus (PV), which enters the body through the mouth, infecting the intestinal lining. It may proceed to the blood stream and into the central nervous system causing paralysis and muscle weakness.

The effects of a polio infection have been recorded since prehistory. Egyptian paintings and carvings depict otherwise healthy people with withered limbs, walking with canes at a young age, etc. The Roman emperor Claudius was stricken as a child; he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 and was paralysed from the waist down for the rest of his life as a result.

Polio may be spread through contact with faeces, mucus, saliva of an infected person or through airborne particles.

The first effective polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk, and inoculations of children against polio began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1954. Through mass immunisation, the disease was wiped out, although it recently has re-appeared in Haiti, where political strife and poverty have interfered with vaccination efforts.


Young children who contract polio are likely to suffer only mild symptoms, and as a result they may become permanently immune to the disease. The incubation period varies between three and twenty one days. Hence inhabitants of areas with better sanitation may actually be more susceptible to polio because fewer people have the disease as young children. People who have survived polio sometimes develop additional symptoms, notably muscle weakness, decades later; these symptoms are called post-polio syndrome.

Eradication Efforts

In 1988, the World Health Organisation passed a resolution to eradicate polio by 2000. The current plan calls for a stop of spreading the virus by 2005. Most remaining polio infections are located in two areas: the Indian sub-continent and Nigeria. Eradication efforts in the Indian sub-continent have met with a large measure of success. The Indian Government started the Plus-Polio Campaign to get rid of Polio. Most families allowed their children to take the vaccine. Some Muslim families refused due to false rumours that the vaccine causes sterility in boys. If polio is eradicated it will be the second disease to eradicated. The first one was smallpox.
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