Today, we are fortunate, as most of us do not need to worry about poliomyelitis (polio). In fact, many would have only heard about polio when receiving our vaccination or when taking our children for their routine poliomyelitis vaccination.
More recently, the media has been abuzz with news and write-ups on polio as we stand now on the brink of eradicating poliomyelitis from the world.
Yet for anyone over the age of 50, poliomyelitis still casts chilling memories of babies gasping for air before being entombed in iron lungs, children hobbling in leg irons or crutches, and adults confined in wheelchairs. Seemingly appearing out of nowhere in unstoppable epidemics, polio killed and paralysed millions, and mostly affected children. Poliomyelitis grabbed headlines, stoked panic and affected entire communities. Unfortunately, doctors and scientists were powerless to prevent or treat the scourge of polio.
Since the emergence of the polio vaccines, worldwide poliomyelitis prevalence has been reduced by 99%. We stand on the verge of wiping poliomyelitis from the world but the final 1% has proven to be the biggest hurdle yet. As long as this 1% remains, we are still at risk of poliomyelitis infection.
You can be part of the worldwide collaboration to bring about the end of poliomyelitis. You will have to know a little bit more about poliomyelitis and the history of our long struggle before you join the largest non-military army the world has ever seen. Do your bit to end poliomyelitis and agree to your child receiving all 4 doses of the polio vaccine that is provided for free under the Malaysian National Immunisation Programme (NIP) at 2,3,5 and 18 months.
Polio the Crippling Scourge
Polio or poliomyelitis is an infectious disease that:
- Invades the nervous system
- Attacks nerves that activate muscle movement (limbs and lungs)
- Lead to deformities of arms and legs, resulting in paralysis
- Can kill
- Remains incurable
The cause of the disease is an infection with the poliovirus which only infects humans. Poliomyelitis can be classified as either symptomatic or asymptomatic. About 95% of all cases display no symptoms (asymptomatic poliomyelitis), and between 4% and 8% of cases display symptoms (symptomatic poliomyelitis). Symptomatic polio can be broken down further into a mild form called non-paralytic or abortive polio and a severe form called paralytic poliomyelitis.
Paralytic poliomyelitis also may be classified as:
- Spinal polio: attacks motor neurons in the spinal cord and causes paralysis in arms and legs and breathing problems
- Bulbar poliomyelitis: affects neurons responsible for sight, vision, taste, swallowing, and breathing
- Bulbo-spinal poliomyelitis: both spinal and bulbar polio
Poliovirus usually enters the environment through the faeces of an infected individual. In areas with poor sanitation, the virus spreads easily via the faecal-oral route, through contaminated water or food. In addition, transmission of polio can occur through direct contact with an infected person.
Most people with poliomyelitis do not usually display any symptoms or become noticeably sick. When symptoms do appear, there are differences depending on the type of polio:
- Non-paralytic poliomyelitis leads to flu-like symptoms that last for a few days or weeks, such as fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, back and neck pain, arm and leg stiffness, muscle tenderness, muscle spasms, and meningitis.
- Paralytic polio often begins with symptoms similar to non-paralytic polio, but will progress to more serious symptoms such as a loss of muscle reflexes, severe muscle pain and spasms, and loose or floppy limbs that is often worse on one side of the body.