Highly contagious and acute, poliomyelitis – often referred to as Polio, is a viral disease that causes mild to severe paralysis, difficulty in breathing and in extreme cases can also be fatal. Primarily, the virus is transmitted when a healthy individual comes in contact with the faeces of a polio infected person. Also, the virus may be transmitted to a healthy person when he/she comes in contact with saliva or airborne droplets contaminated by this virus or through contaminated water or food.
Thankfully, human intervention has made it possible to handle and nip this crippling disease. As a result of regular polio eradication drives and immunisation programmes in the developed nations, poliomyelitis has been eliminated from these first world countries. But, same is not the case with the developing countries around the world. Polio still poses a serious threat to the population of these nations and also to those who are travelling to such parts of the world without the booster dose of immunisation.
In many cases, this viral infection shows no symptoms, whatsoever. While in some cases, the symptoms start to developing between 3 and 21 days of getting infected by the virus. Initial symptoms can be in the form of fever and sore throat. Sometimes, the infection affects the spinal cord (spinal polio) or brain (bulbar polio), or both (bulbospinal polio). In some cases, it may paralyse one or more limbs, and in some rare cases, the muscles of the respiratory system may also get adversely affected by the infection.
There is no particular treatment for poliomyelitis. In majority of the instances, it is not diagnosed. If there is a doubt of an infection of polio virus, faecal examination is conducted to confirm or deny the speculation. Since there is an absence of specific treatment, the focus is on treating the symptoms and avoiding further complications as the body fights the polio virus. If the infection is mild, the patient makes full recovery within some times but in some cases (less than 1 percent) the patient may develop permanent paralysis, and, unfortunately, there is no treatment that can prevent this complication. In extreme cases of poliomyelitis, when the respiratory muscles of the patient are paralysed due to viral disease, mechanical ventilation may have to be given to him/her.
Maintaining personal and public health and hygiene is an effective way to deal with polio. However, vaccination is the only available option to eradicate the possibility of being infected by this deadly virus. Children are immunised against poliomyelitis through vaccination, first at the age of two months, then at three months and then at four months. Booster dose is also given at the age of five years. Although vaccination gives protection for lifetime, one is advised to get a booster dose, if one is travelling to a place where poliomyelitis has not been completely eradicated.