What Is Poliomyelitis?

A deadly disease swept through the United States in the first half of the 1900’s. This epidemic was caused by poliomyelitis, more widely known as polio. From 1945-1949, poliomyelitis cases averaged about 20,000 every year. Since the discovery of polio vaccination by Jonas Salk in the 1950’s reduced the annual number of cases from hundreds of thousands to only around thousands. The term "poliomyelitis» is derived from the Greek word "polio" (grey), "myelon" (spinal cord), and the suffix -itis, which means inflammation.

What causes poliomyelitis?

This disease is caused by infection with the RNA virus poliovirus. The virus inhabits the nose and mouth, multiplies exponentially in the in the gastrointestinal tract, and is absorbed and then spread through the blood. The incubation period ranges from 5 days to 35 days. There are three identified serotypes of poliovirus: poliovirus type 1 (PV1), type 2 (PV2), and type 3 (PV3). These serotypes are very virulent and produce similar disease symptoms. People with poliomyelitis most commonly encounter PV1, the serotype most closely linked with paralysis.

What are the symptoms?

Poliomyelitis is classified into two: abortive poliomyelitis that doesn’t involve the central nervous system (CNS) and one type that involves the CNS (it may be non-paralytic or paralytic). The following are the most common symptoms of abortive poliomyelitis: fever up to 39.5°C or 103°F, headache, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, sore throat, constipation, and abdominal pain.

For non-paralytic poliomyelitis, the symptoms are similar to that of abortive poliomyelitis, but the nausea, vomiting, and headache may be worse. These symptoms may also occur: excessive tiredness or fatigue, on-off fever, stiffness in the neck and along the spine, painful skin rash or lesion, irritability, muscle spasm and tenderness in many parts of the body, and pain in neck muscles, trunk, legs, and arms

For paralytic poliomyelitis, the symptoms are similar to that of abortive and non-paralytic poliomyelitis with the addition of the following: muscle weakness all over, muscle wasting, difficulty swallowing, blotchy or flushed skin, bladder paralysis, severe constipation, weakened breathing, weak cough, hoarse voice, drooling, muscle paralysis, poor temper control, constipation, bloated feeling in abdomen, and sensitivity to touch.

How poliomyelitis transmited?

Poliomyelitis can be transferred by many ways. The poliovirus is transferred by direct person-to-person contact. The virus also spread when a person is exposed to phlegm or mucus from the mouth or nose of the infected person, or when he or she makes contact with infected feces. The poliovirus is also transferred by ingesting contaminated water or food. Those who have not received vaccinations against the disease can be infected by the disease. The transmission of poliomyelitis occurs fastest a few days before and after the symptoms manifest.

How to treat poliomyelitis?

There is currently no cure for poliomyelitis. The focus has been to provide relief of symptoms, to provide speedy recovery, and to prevent complications. Supportive treatments include analgesics for pain, antibiotics for secondary infections, a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and portable ventilators that assist in breathing. Treating poliomyelitis often needs long-term rehabilitation that includes physical therapy, corrective shoes, braces, and orthopedic surgery if necessary.