Poliomyelitis, more commonly referred to as Polio, is a viral disease that is highly infectious. Polio typically affects children and can be transmitted through food and water that has been contaminated. Once ingested, it multiplies within the intestines and invades the nervous system. Symptoms may include vomiting, neck stiffness, fatigue, fever, limb pain and headache. In some cases, Polio has been known to cause complete and permanent paralysis. Although more rarely seen in the 1950s and before, Polio can now be prevented by a vaccine. Cases of Polio have decreased significantly since 1988. From approximately 350,000 cases in 1988 to only 1997 cases reported in 2006. In 2008, there were only four reported countries that still remained polio-endemic. This number is down substantially from more than 125 countries in 1988.
Polio can lead to irreversible paralysis, which typically occurs in the legs. Today, one out of every 200 polio infections leads to paralysis. Of those who are paralyzed by polio, five to ten percent die because their breathing muscles become immobilized as well.
While there is no cure for polio once it has developed, the polio vaccine can protect children from ever contracting the disease. This vaccine is given multiple times and is the main reason that the reported cases of polio have decreased nearly 99 percent over the past two decades.
Scientists are currently conducting research on post-polio syndrome. Studies hope to answer questions about new and more effective approaches. This research has seen much advance over the past few years and scientists are still looking for ways to develop more effective methods of dealing with patients diagnosed with post-polio syndrome. Studies include the behavior of motor neurons in patients who have had polio attacks some years back. Other research is being done on the mechanisms of fatigue. Scientists are looking to determine the role that the brain, peripheral nerves, muscles, neuromuscular junction and spinal cord play in patients with polio.
Scientists have discovered that in many survivors of the disease, there exists fragments of the poliovirus. Mutated versions of the poliovirus have also been found. Although scientists are studying the effects of these findings, the significance is still not known. The findings have contributed to more research being done and more countries collaborating to work together to find the answers to these questions.
Post-polio syndrome clinical trials are currently being done. Although these trials do pose some risks to patients, researchers are taking every precaution to ensure the protection of those with this disease.
Although great strides have been made by researchers in preventing the disease, there are still countries that seem to have pre-conceived genetic pointers for polio. Scientists from around the world have been working together for decades to learn just what triggers this disease in many parts of the world and more effective ways of combating it. While polio in areas of Europe and in the United States seems to be history, many underdeveloped countries have children who develop the disease to this day.