Infectious Diseases

An Overview of Poliomyelitis and its Threatened Comeback



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"An Overview of Poliomyelitis and its Threatened Comeback"
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Poliomyelitis is a condition which can give rise to lifelong disability and sometimes fatal outcomes that can be prevented by giving a simple vaccine at the earliest stages of life. Being contracted by a virus, the poliomyelitis had engulfed the world, especially the African and Asian continents with its fury, before the 1960s. However one of the greatest inventions in the 20th century, the oral polio vaccine, prevented its further escalation and has almost eradicated the disease in most parts of the world.

The polio virus is a highly contagious disease which enters the body through the mouth. At the same time, an infected person with the active disease can spread the disease through his or her feces which can secondarily end-up contaminating a healthy person’s hands, food or drinking water. Following entering the intestine, it can colonize and enter the blood stream through the mucosal wall of the intestine. Lastly, it ends up in the nervous system and once dormant, the virus can cause the nerves to paralyze which results in a serious muscle weakness in the limbs. The fatal outcomes occur when the virus affects the respiratory muscles and in most instances, the most likely muscle groups to be affected are the lower limbs.

Although the most significant sign in poliomyelitis is the paralysis, it can also manifest as fever, weakness, headache, vomiting and pain.

The strategy adapted to prevent the occurrence of poliomyelitis is to give a vaccine in the very early days of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the oral polio vaccine, which is the most widely used polio vaccine, should be given at birth, at 6 weeks, 10 weeks and in the 14th week in areas where polio is an endemic disease. At the same time, different regions in the world will adapt various techniques of giving the oral polio vaccine or the polio injection, depending on the nature of their threat.

However, in a report released by the WHO to mark the polio eradication day falling on the 24th October each year, it acknowledges the fact that almost 99% of the polio eradication in the world has been achieved although unless the world continues to be vigilant and adhere to vaccination programmes, the virus could rise to its former furor.

The basis for their warning is the fact that, even in polio free regions, cases of paralysis have been reported. These were recent findings and it has been continuously happening each year in various parts of the world. Thus, unless polio has been eradicated everywhere in the world, it remains a threat to each and every country. Furthermore, the WHO also tells that even deaths related to polio have been reported in some places in the world.

Given these facts, a comeback would be inevitable if the world lowers its defense against the deadly polio virus as it can spread fast and reach even pandemic levels as it does not have a potential cure.

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More about this author: Dr Pandula Siribaddana

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