What is polio? Causes and symptoms

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DESPITE a worldwide attempt to wipe out polio, poliovirus continues to affect children and adults in parts of Asia and Africa.

Here is everything you need to know about the disease.

What is polio?

Polio is an infectious disease that can spread from person to person and most commonly affects children under the age of five.

The disease attacks the nervous system and in some extreme cases can lead to paralysis.

Polio is very contagious, and a person can transmit it even when they aren’t sick.

There are two ways the virus goes from person to person.

An attempt to inoculate a child against Polio

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An attempt to inoculate a child against PolioCredit: AP

The first is that people with poliovirus in their bodies shed the virus through their faeces (poop).

The second way is the virus can then spread to other people when they swallow contaminated water or food.

This exposure is more likely in areas that have poor hygiene or weak systems to clean water.

What are the causes of polio?

Polio is caused by a virus called poliovirus.

The virus enters the body through the mouth or nose, getting into the digestive and respiratory (breathing) systems.

It then harvests in the throat and intestines.

From there, it can enter the bloodstream and attack the nervous system.

There are three strains of poliovirus: types one, two and three. Types two and three have been eliminated, but type one still affects people in a few countries.

Although there is no cure, there is a safe and effective vaccine.

The two types of vaccines used are an inactivated poliovirus given by injection and a weakened poliovirus given by mouth.

Vaccination means polio is now very rare in most parts of the world. It’s mainly found in two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What are the symptoms of polio?

The majority of people who get infected with poliovirus will not have any visible symptoms.

About one in four people with poliovirus infection will have flu-like symptoms that may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain

Symptoms usually last anywhere between two to 10 days before they go away on their own.

In very rare cases, polio can cause difficulty using your muscles, usually in the legs.

This is not usually permanent and movement should slowly return over the next few weeks or months.

However, it can be life-threatening if the paralysis affects the muscles used for breathing.

In this case, seek medical attention immediately.

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