Acrippling and potentially fatal infectious disease, polio still strikes children mainly under the age of five in countries in Asia, Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean region. Polio, also called poliomyelitis is a highly contagious infectious disease which can lead to paralysis or even death. Once a person is exposed to polio, it usually takes about three to five days for the symptoms to appear.
In about 95 per cent of polio cases, infection from the polio virus causes no symptoms or serious effects. In about 5 per cent of cases, the polio virus manifests in a mild form (abortive polio) with flu-like symptoms, in a non-paralytic form (aseptic meningitis) or in a severe form called paralytic polio. People who have minor or non-paralytic forms recover completely. However, paralytic polio, as its name implies, causes muscle paralysis - and can even result in death.
In paralytic polio, the virus invades the central nervous system - the spinal cord and the brain. Paralytic polio begins like milder forms of polio; however, it usually causes severe muscle pain in addition to other symptoms. Paralysis usually happens within the first week and the individual may lose the ability to use one or both legs, arms, and also may not be able to breathe without the help of a machine. Recovery varies from person to person, but people who are paralyzed by polio will have some weakness in an arm or leg for the rest of their lives.
Causes and symptoms:
Polio is caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. There are many symptoms of polio and not everyone will experience all of the symptoms. The symptoms vary according to the type of polio the individual has. In mild polio, some of the symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, general discomfort or a slight fever for up to three days. In non-paralytic polio the symptoms are similar to mild cases, with the addition of moderate fever, stiff neck and back, fatigue and muscle pain. However, individuals with paralytic polio experience tremor, muscle weakness, fever, stiffness, constipation, muscle pain and spasms, and difficulty in swallowing.
How it spreads?
Polio can be spread by a number of ways. People who have not been immunised against polio or have a weak immune system may contract polio from individuals who are receiving the oral polio vaccine. In developing nations, the polio virus is spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the polio virus. The polio virus may also be contracted through direct contact with infected stool or throat secretions. People are most infectious a few days before and after the onset of symptoms.
Polio can be prevented through immunisation. All healthy children between the ages of six weeks and 18 years should be vaccinated against polio as part of their complete vaccination schedule. But in some countries including Pakistan only children less than 6 years of age are given the vaccine.
Outbreak of polio feared:
Recently, a media workshop on healthcare issues of children-polio was jointly organised by the Karachi Press Club, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and a non-governmental organisation, Mishal Pakistan.
During the workshop, Dr Rizwana Memon, a senior polio officer shared that, "Only three cases of polio have been reported across the province since the year's beginning, however, an upsurge is feared during the next four months - July to October. This upsurge is feared due to the negligence on part of the parents in administering polio vaccines."
With the help of visual aid, she explained that Pakistan reported almost half of its total polio cases during the four months from July to October in 2009, 2010 and 2011. She also stated that Pakistan topped the list of three polio endemic countries, the other two being Afghanistan and Nigeria.
"One of the major reasons of polio cases in Sindh remains the influx of internally displaced persons. The influx of internally displaced persons into Sindh resulted in an increase in the number of polio cases especially in Karachi. In 2011, Pakistan reported 198 polio cases in total out of which 23 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 59 from FATA, 73 from Balochistan, one from Gilgit-Baltistan, nine from Punjab and 33 from Sindh," said Dr. Rizwana.
What needs to be done?
A collective effort is required to thwart the danger. Dr. Rizwana Memon appealed to all the school managements and parents to remain alert this summer as the next few months are critical as far as the polio outbreak is concerned.
To fight and eradicate this dreaded virus, there is a crucial need to remain cautious and continue with serious efforts. Also awareness programmes such as these should be held more often so that misconceptions related to the polio immunisation can be eliminated.