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Will Polio Always Be With Us?

Updated on March 26, 2011

What We All Should Know

Polio is a disease which is spread by a virus. It is highly contagious and for many years, the mere word caused fear. Although in the past, polio outbreaks were common in the United States, that is no longer so. Thanks to the success of polio vaccinations, which began in l955, there are no longer any cases of so-called 'wild' polio within the United States. Unfortunately the same is not true for the rest of the world.

Polio still exists in many countries, especially in Africa and parts of Asia. It is true that many individuals, who contract polio, have symptoms so mild, that they may be unaware that they have the disease. Others are not so lucky. Their symptoms may include a sore throat, fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain and stiffness. Once an individual actually has polio, there is no cure. During the period of the disease, the only treatments include supportive therapies. While many of those, in the United States, who contracted the disease, were helped by surgery and physical therapy, those in developing countries today, are not so lucky.   In severe cases of polio, the individual may lose the ability to speak, swallow, and breath and suffer paralysis of part of all of the body. 

If you have any suspicious symptoms, consult your health care professional immediately. Symptoms alone to not mean you have a specific disease, but it is never worth taking the chance.

Those who are lucky enough to survive polio may, even decades later, have a variety of serious recurring symptoms, serious enough to affect their way of life and need ongoing medical treatment. These symptoms may remain for the rest of the individual's life.

There is only one way to protect yourself from polio and that is by vaccination. Infants should receive four doses of vaccine, and adults, who were never vaccinated, should get the three dose series. If you are traveling in an area where polio may still exist, or are engaged in a profession that exposes you to the virus, you would be wise to get a booster shot, even if you have been vaccinated in the past. If you have any concerns for yourself or your children, consult your family physician.

The polio vaccine may cause some mild reactions such as soreness or redness at the site of the shot. Very few individuals have any reactions at all. However, you should always report any unusual health concerns that you feel may be connected to the vaccination.

Vaccinations for polio are usually not administered to anyone who is ill. Others who have had serious allergic reactions to other vaccinations should discuss this with their doctor.

Due to a global initiative by the World Health Organization, to eradicate polio throughout the world, the cases of 'wild' polio have been reduced, but individuals and groups still are opposed to vaccines for various reasons. Until every individual and child born throughout the world is inoculated, polio will always be with us as will the twisted limbs, painful braces, paralysis, and death that are associated with it. It only takes one infected individual to enter a population that has not been vaccinated, and polio epidemics could again become a reality.


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