Polio also called poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis is a potentially deadly and crippling infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from one person to another and can attack the brain and spinal cord of an infected person causing paralysis.

The virus can also spread, even though only in rare cases, through contaminated water and food. Individuals carrying the virus can spread it for weeks in their feces. At the same time, individuals with the virus but do not show the symptoms can pass it to others.  

The poliovirus leads to never injury that not only leads to paralysis but also difficulties breathing and even death. Despite the extensive efforts to eradicate polio in the world, poliovirus still affects children and adults in parts of Africa and Asia. In other words, children aged 5 and below are at higher risk of contracting poliovirus.

Facts and Figures

World Health Organization reports that 1 in 200 poliovirus infections lead to irreversible paralysis of which 5-10% of the infected population dies when their breathing muscles become powerless.

Once one child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the virus, and that is the reason WHO and other international organizations are putting more efforts to wipe polio away. 

According to Relief Web, Kenya was supposed to be certified as polio-free in 2018, but that remains a ‘dream’ to take more time because live viruses were found in sewage samples collected from Nairobi. The Ministry of Health was notified by Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) of detection of poliovirus type 2 from environmental samples collected from sites in Eastleigh, Nairobi.

Even though no new case of polio is reported yet, the Ministry of Health has been cautious since the findings by KEMRI in March 2018. The Ministry of Health launched a polio vaccination campaign in the whole country that ran in April and May 2018.

Symptoms

When a person gets infected with poliovirus, he or she may contract either nonparalytic polio paralytic polio whose symptoms vary. The signs and symptoms of non-paralytic polio which may last for 10 days include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Muscle weakness or tenderness
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Pain or stiffness in the legs or arms

The signs and symptoms of paralytic polio that often show up after one week of experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms include:

  • Severe weakness and muscle aches
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Floppy and lose limbs (flaccid paralysis)

Individuals who contract non-paralytic polio are likely to experience post-polio syndrome several years later where they may experience signs and symptoms such as:

  • Muscle wasting (atrophy)
  • Progressive join or muscle weakness and pain
  • Swallowing or breathing problems
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased tolerance to cold temperatures
  • Sleep-related breathing problems such as sleep apnea

Treatment

Since there is no specific cure for polio, the focus is mainly on increasing patient comfort, preventing complications, and relieving pain. Supportive treatments include:

  • Portable ventilators to help with breathing
  • Pain relievers
  • Physical therapy or moderate exercise to prevent deformity and loss of muscle function

Prevention

As mentioned, since there is no cure for polio, a lot of effort is put on preventing it and wiping the disease from the world. The primary preventive measure for polio is vaccination using the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) and oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) which exist in Kenya.  

IPV vaccines are issued to children at the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • Between 6 and 18 months
  • Between ages 4 and 6 when children are just entering school

Always ensure your child receives these vaccinations to be safe from polio.

Other than vaccines, other methods of restraining the spread of polio include:

  • Washing hands frequently
  • Avoid beverages or food that may have been contaminated by an individual with poliovirus
  • Being certain to receive any required booster doses of the vaccines
  • Covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • Using hand sanitizer when soap is not available
  • Checking with a medical expert that your vaccinations are current
  • Make sure you only touch the nose, eyes, or mouth with clean hands
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick including hugging, kissing, and sharing utensils

Sources

https://reliefweb.int/report/kenya/kenya-polio-free-dream-take-time

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/poliomyelitis

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155580.php

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polio/symptoms-causes/syc-20376512