In December last year, local media reported a three-month old infant in Tuaran, Sabah, was in the ICU with poliomyelitis or polio. The baby was the first reported case in 27 years in Malaysia, after the WHO (World Health Organization) declared Malaysia polio-free in 2000.

How much do we know about polio?
Polio is a contagious viral disease that attacks the body’s nervous system, which in its most severe form leads to total paralysis, breathing difficulties and eventual death.

The disease can easily spread through direct contact, or through contaminated food and water though this is less common. Polio carriers can spread the virus in their feces, and asymptomatic carriers can simply pass the virus to others.

The alarming point about polio is that the majority of infected people are asymptomatic carriers who are unaware they are infected and can infect others. And the few who normally show symptoms from the virus, contract a non-paralysis type of polio called abortive or nonparalytic polio, hence the difficulty to diagnose the disease in the initial stage.

Persons at risk:
Medical data shows polio mainly attacks children below 5 years of age, though adults have also been infected. Anyone who has not received the polio vaccination is at risk of contracting this terrible disease.

There are 3 types of poliovirus:

Abortive or Nonparalytic Polio:
Abortive polio accounts for nearly 90 per cent of apparent cases of polio, targeting young children. The symptoms that show 3 – 5 days after exposure to the virus which we should look out for are:

 fever
 fatigue
 headache
 sore throat
 vomiting
 stiffness and pain in the back, neck, arms or legs
 muscle weakness

Barring no complications, a full recovery with no permanent disabilities should take up to 10 days.

Paralytic Polio:
The most serious form the disease, but is rare. Initial symptoms are similar to Abortive Polio, but other symptoms appear within a week:

 severe muscle aches or weakness
 floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis)
 loss of reflexes

Note that Paralytic Polio can lead to bone deformities, temporary or permanent muscle paralysis, and eventually death if medical treatment is not sought.

Post-Polio Syndrome:
This is a bundle of symptoms that appear and affect people years after having polio. Symptoms to look out for are:

 fatigue
 progressive weakness and pain in the muscles and joints
 atrophy – muscle wasting
 respiratory and swallowing problems
 sleep apnea (a sleep breathing disorder)
 intolerance to cold temperature

Diagnosis:
Doctors will look out for the main symptoms such as neck and back stiffness, difficulty in breathing and swallowing and abnormal reflexes. Further lab tests (a throat swab, stool sample and spinal cord fluid) need to be carried out to check for the poliovirus and confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment:
No cure exists for polio, hence strong emphasis is placed on vaccination to prevent you from getting infected. If a person does contract Paralytic Polio, the only options are to make the patient as comfortable as possible, pain relievers, use of supportive equipment like ventilators for breathing assistance, and physical therapy to prevent muscle loss.

Prevention:
The Ministry of Health Malaysia has made it compulsory for all newborns to get vaccinated against Polio, with the vaccination schedule as below:

 1st dose – 2 months
 2nd dose – 3 months
 3rd dose – 5 months
 4th dose – 18 months

Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) is used, which is safe for people with weakened immune systems. However, be aware that IPV can cause an allergic reaction in some people within minutes or hours after the dose. Seek immediate medical attention if you or your child display allergic symptoms after vaccination, such as:

 breathing difficulty / wheezing
 weakness
 increased heart rate
 dizziness
 hives (very itchy rashes that sometimes swell)

It is hoped that this article has given our readers some insight into Polio and why it is important for everyone from newborns to adults to get vaccinated. If you require further information on Polio, do consult your medical practitioner.

By Aaron
17th June 19:40

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