Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a highly infectious viral disease that can be deadly. The virus, which can cause paralysis when it invades the nervous system, is usually transmitted through contaminated food and water. While there is no cure for polio, it can be prevented by immunization.
It’s estimated that 95 to 99 percent of people who contract poliovirus are asymptomatic. This is known as subclinical polio. Even without symptoms, people infected with poliovirus can still spread the virus and cause infection in others.
Signs and symptoms of non-paralytic polio can last from one to 10 days. These signs and symptoms can be flu-like and can include:
Non-paralytic polio is also known as abortive polio.
Paralytic affects only a small percentage of those invaded by the polio virus. In these cases, the virus enters motor neurons where it replicates and destroys the cells. These cells are in the spinal cord, brain stem, or motor cortex, which is an area of the brain important in controlling movements.
Symptoms of paralytic polio often start in a similar way to non-paralytic polio, but later progress to more serious symptoms such as:
The polio virus is highly contagious and is transmitted by contact with secretions from the nose, mouth, or faces of an infected person. It can also spread through direct contact with an infected person or if an unimmunized person comes into contact with someone who recently received the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and has the live virus.
The spread of this virus is usually through a fecal-oral route in areas with poor sanitation. The virus enters through the nose and mouth, multiplies in the nose and intestinal tract and is then absorbed and spread through the blood and lymphatic system. The incubation period (the time from being infected to the appearance of symptoms) is seven to 14 days.
You may be at risk of polio if you have not been immunized against the disease. Although it affects people of all ages, there are certain groups of people such as infants, children, older people and pregnant women who are more vulnerable to the infection. A person with a weakened immune system, like those with HIV or under extreme stress, is also at a higher risk of this infection.
It is often recognized because of symptoms, such as neck and back stiffness, abnormal reflexes, and trouble with swallowing and breathing. A doctor who suspects virus will perform laboratory tests that check for poliovirus by examining throat secretions, stool samples, or cerebrospinal fluid.
There is no cure for this virus; it can only be prevented by vaccination. Treatment of symptoms is all that can be done for the sufferer. For instance, antibiotics are used to treat urinary tract infections. Bethanechol is used to reduce urine retention. Analgesics are used to reduce headaches and muscle pain.
The most effective way to prevent the disease is getting vaccinated. Immunization against polio is recommended for all children from three to 18 months of age. Three booster doses should be given to all children up to 12 years of age.
It is also important to practice good personal hygiene to reduce the spread of the virus.
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