Polio: what are the symptoms, how is it transmitted and is there a cure?

How is poliomyelitis diagnosed?

Along with a complete physical exam and history taking, doctors take throat and stool cultures and sometimes blood and spinal fluid tests to check for poliovirus.

How is polio spread?

The virus is often spread through contact with contaminated feces. This is often due to poor hygiene, especially hand washing. It can also happen by 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 who have the virus may shed the virus in their stool for several weeks. People are most contagious just before the onset of symptoms and shortly after they appear.

Who has polio?

It is estimated that there are about 120,000 people who have had polio in their youth in the UK.

Notable polio survivors have included chef Mary Berry, musician Neil Young, singer John Mitchell and actor Donald Sutherland, director Francis Ford Coppola, and historian David Steaky.

What is the treatment and is it possible to recover from polio?

There is no specific medicine for people who become infected. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms by giving pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Patients are often advised to follow a special diet, engage in minimal activity, and use hot compresses or heating pads for muscle pain.

For severe symptoms of paralysis, assistive devices for movement, such as braces, canes, and wheelchairs, may be required. Patients may also need assistance with breathing, such as supplemental oxygen or a ventilator, and physical or occupational therapy.

Some people who recover from a mild attack develop post-polio syndrome, which can lead to persistent fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle contraction, and muscle and joint pain.

Where did polio originate?

On carved tablets from Ancient Egypt around 1500 B.C. depicts a priest with a withered leg holding a cane, suggesting that polio has been circulating for thousands of years, but was first described in medical literature by the British physician Michael Underwood in 1789.

The virus was never considered a major problem until the late 1800s, when outbreaks began to occur in industrial areas. The first significant outbreak occurred among children in the state of Vermont in the United States in 1894.

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

Serious outbreaks were thought to have been caused by improved hygiene that kept young children from being exposed, putting them at greater risk in later childhood.

When did the UK start vaccinating people against polio?

Major outbreaks in the 1940s and 50s sped up vaccination programs, and by 1955 Dr. Jonas Salk had created the first polio vaccine.

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

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