Polio is a viral infection which can be very serious if caught, unfortunately there’s no cure, so making sure you and your family are vaccinated against it is important.
Since the 1950s, Britain has routinely vaccinated against polio and there hasn’t been a case since the 1990s. However, the polio infection can still be caught in some regions of the world, this means there can be a small chance of the virus being brought back into the United Kingdom.
It’s estimated that around 1 in 100 people who have polio will develop temporary or permanent paralysis, this in some cases can be life-threatening.
How Do You Get Polio?
As Polio is a viral infection it’s quite easy to get infected, usually most people catch the virus by coming into ‘contact’ with faeces (poo) of an infected individual. It can also be caught by ‘millions’ of tiny droplets which are released into the air when a person sneezes or coughs.
In addition, these droplets can ‘land’ onto surfaces such as everyday items like flooring, door handles, keyboards, remote controls, telephones and so on.
Typically, the virus can be spread by somebody with the infection for around a week before any symptoms develop. They can also spread the infection for several weeks after too. Sometimes, although extremely rare, Polio can develop by the vaccination itself, this is because some nations give their population ‘live’ versions of the virus. This is not the case in the United Kingdom as the NHS uses an ‘inactive’ version of Polio.
As you can see from the explanation above, the transmission of Polio is extremely easy, even if the infected individual is aware of having the virus or not.
Symptoms of Polio
Typically, most people won’t realise they have the infection, as polio tends to not show any symptoms until advanced stages. Sometimes a small number of people may have ‘flu-like’ symptoms around 5 to 20 days after the initial infection.
Classic Symptoms of Polio can include:
• A headache
• A Sore Throat
• A temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
• Nausea and vomiting
• Abdominal Pain
• Hurting Muscles
As you can see, these symptoms can easily be mistaken for other viruses such as the flu or the common cold. If you’re concerned about the symptoms listed, or would like to find out more information regarding Polio, please call your Doctor’s surgery or NHS 111.
Extreme Symptoms of Polio
In more ‘extreme’ cases of polio, it can attack the spine, base of the brain and nerves, this usually leads to some form of paralysis. It can vary how this develops, for some people it can be a matter of hours, for others it can be days.
If paralysis from Polio occurs, it typically isn’t permanent and general movement will return, however this told take a few weeks to a few months. Of course, some people can be ‘left’ with more permanent paralysis, which can in some cases be life-threatening.
The NHS state around 1 in every 200 people will develop ‘some degree’ of permanent paralysis.
Long-term problems of Polio can include:
• Shrinking Muscles
• Weakness of Muscles
• Tight Joints
• Twisted Legs or Feet (also known as Deformities)
Polio Vaccine in Britain
In Britain, the NHS offer a vaccination against Polio as standard, this is part of the National Health Service’s ‘Childhood vaccine programme’.
The Polio vaccination is typically given by injection in five separate doses. These tend to be given at the following ages:
8, 12 and 16 weeks of Age – This is part of the 5-in-1 Vaccine
Three Years and Four Months – Part of the 4-in-1 Pre-School Booster
14 Years Old – Part of the 3-in-1 Teenage Booster
Equally if you’re planning to Travel Abroad then you should certainly seek advice on whether the country you’re travelling to is regarded as ‘at-risk’ of Polio. Please speak to the UK Foreign office, your travel booking agent or the countries Embassy for more information.
Typically, you will get a fully vaccination of five separate doses if you’ve never had the Polio vaccine before, so remember to plan for this. There’s nothing worse than finding out you need travel injections two weeks before a holiday and there’s no time for the vaccinations to take place.
Similarly, if it’s been ‘over 10 years’ since you’ve last had a Polio vaccine, you most likely will require a booster dose. Please contact your local GP for further information. Please bear in mind, a fee might be payable, however sometimes it can be free. This can vary depending on your NHS trust.
Countries with Polio
Most regions have been declared polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO), these include Europe, North and South America, Western Pacific and South-East Asia.
However, Polio can still be found in places such as Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Most parts of Africa, Middle East, Indian Continent
Remember this is just a ‘basic list’ and will not name all the countries where Polio is currently found.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for Polio. In most cases the treatment plan for Polio sufferers is to aid their body and help to reduce any long-term problems the infection may present.
For severe cases, this may include the use of painkillers, breathing support or bed rest at hospital. As each case is different, only a professional treatment plan from a Doctor can cater to the needs of each situation.
If somebody is left with long-term problems, which are not regarded as ‘severe’ they may be offered physiotherapy or devices such as splints and braces to help weak muscles and limbs.
The History of Polio
Polio’s official name is Poliomyelitis, the infection tends to involve muscle weakness in the legs, however it can also involve muscles in the head, neck and diaphragm.
It’s been estimated that 2-5% of children and 15-30% of adults, who have severe Polio muscle weaknesses die. Interestingly in up to 70% of infections there’s no symptoms at all.
Polio as a disease has existed for thousands of years, it’s even been ‘depict’ in ancient artwork. In the ‘modern era’, it was first recognised by Michael Underwood in 1789.
Major pandemics occurred in both Europe and the United States in the late 19th Century. By the 20th century, Polio was one of the worst childhood diseases, this lead to scientists and doctors to try to invent a vaccination. However, the first Polio vaccine didn’t occur until the 1950s.
In 1952, the United States saw Polio infections increasing, there was nearly 60,000 cases, of that 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with paralysis. After the invention of the Polio vaccine, a lot of countries throughout the world saw a decline in outbreaks and reported cases.
It’s been stated that by 1977 around 250,000 survivors of Polio were living in the United States alone. There was around 30,000 in Germany, 24,000 in France, 16,000 in Australia and 12,000 in the United Kingdom.
While figures are hard to pin-point, over the last couple of decades, the World Health Organisation estimate (WHO) there could be anything up to 20 million Polio survivors throughout the world. Without the vaccination or effective prevention, these figures could easily be fatalities rather than survivors.
If you’re concerned about Polio or would like more advice, please speak to your local GP, or call NHS 111 in a non-emergency.
Please bear in mind, this Polio help guide has been written to aid the British public and to raise awareness of the infection. This page does not substitute or replace any professional medical advice from a Doctor. Please remember we cannot be held liable or responsible under any circumstances.