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    Childhood Illnesses Up Close: Poliomyelitis

    July 6, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    So far we’ve talked about two bacterias, diphtheria and pertussis. Today’s subject is the virus poliomyelitis, which we often refer to in short as polio. Being that I did not grow up in a time when polio was prevalent, my knowledge of polio up to this point was limited to strange images of iron lungs, a sense that it was “very bad,” and an understanding that polio, whatever it was, was the reason why both my aunt and my next-door-neighbor both walked with a bit of a limp.

    What is polio?
    From what I have read, polio can seem a bit like meningitis in its initial stages. Symptoms begin with fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. Polio is caused by a virus that invades the nervous system. It sounds absolutely frightening: it can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.

    One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis {usually in the legs}. Among those paralysed, 5%–10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. {source}

    Is polio treatable?
    There is no cure for polio. This is why vaccine development was considered so important, because it was believed to offer the only effective prevention against the disease. We will discuss the irony surrounding that assumption in a bit.

    How do I avoid polio?

    As long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Between 2003 and 2005, 25 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to importations.

    The four polio-endemic countries are: Nigeria, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. {source}

    If you still think that getting illegal immigration under control isn’t a good way to prevent and combat contagious diseases, you might want to reconsider your position.

    Polio is transmitted primarily through the ingestion of material contaminated with the virus found in stool {poop}. Not washing hands after using the bathroom and drinking contaminated water were common culprits in the transmission of the disease. {source}

    Once again, we see that basic germ theory is in play here. Keeping our homes sanitary is key. Washing our hands is key. Keeping little hands away from the changing table is key. Not eating or drinking after others is key. This is not just about avoiding polio, but about controlling disease in general. In the instance of polio, the virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Keep the virus out of the mouth and the battle is essentially won.

    However, I cannot stress enough that we must be keeping our lymphatic system healthy. There are actually three effects of the polio virus. The first is abortive polio, and most people don’t even realize they have polio when this type of viral infection occurs. The second is nonparalytic polio. The third is the scary, paralytic polio, which only occurs in 0.1% to 2% of all polio cases. Pregnancy, being very old or very young age, having suffered a recent trauma to the mouth, nose or throat {such as tonsillectomy or dental surgery}, and unusual stress or physical exertion after an exposure to poliovirus {since emotional and physical stress can weaken the immune system} all predispose a patient to the more serious forms of polio. The stronger your immune system, the better you will fight all diseases, including polio.

    Believing that polio affects patients the same can be a grave mistake because this belief will overlook the fact that a healthy lifestyle helps fight even scary diseases like polio. Nurse those babies. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy food. Get a bit of exercise.

    What are the possible side-effects of the vaccine?
    Most vaccines have two types of side-effects. The first is the standard list of symptoms that usually occur within hours, or maybe a couple of weeks, from the time the vaccination was given. However, there are also side-effects, or suspected side-effects that may occur much later. Just ask the parent of an autistic child what they think of vaccines.

    The common side-effects of the polio vaccine are

    Erythema, induration and pain occurred in 3.2%, 1% and 13%, respectively, of vaccinees within 48 hours post-vaccination. Temperatures of ≥ 39°C {≥ 102°F} were reported in 38% of vaccinees. Other symptoms included irritability, sleepiness, fussiness, and crying.


    Although no causal relationship between IPOL vaccine and GBS [Guillain-Barré syndrome] has been established, GBS has been temporally related to administration of another inactivated poliovirus vaccine.

    The lesser-known effects are, first, that the live vaccine, called the OPV, actually causes polio. The live virus is swallowed, and, remember, we already discussed that polio enters the body through the mouth and finds a nice, welcoming home in the intestines. The OPV was designed to stop the spread of the virus, not necessarily to keep your individual child from getting the virus. Remember, the government is much more interested in what is called herd immunity than it is in the well-being of an individual child or family. If you do any reading at all on polio, you will find that it that there have been no instances of wild polio in the U.S. in the last 20 years.

    Of the 127 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis reported in the US between 1980 and 1994, six were imported cases {caused by wild polioviruses}, two were “indeterminate” cases, and 119 were vaccine associated paralytic poliomyelitis {VAPP} cases associated with the use of live, attenuated oral poliovirus vaccine {OPV}. {source}

    The live virus is no longer recommended within the United States for this reason.

    Another effect is cancer. In 2001, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story explaining this phenomenon. Apparently, the polio virus for the vaccine is grown using the tissue of monkey kidneys. Within this monkey kidney tissue was a rogue virus, called the SV40 monkey virus. This virus is now thought to be a major cause of tumor cancers in humans.

    Is the trade-off worth it?
    In my opinion, as a mother of a child who had some pretty major reactions to vaccines, I believe that building my child’s immunity to disease in general, coupled with training the children in the ways of sanitation and hygiene, is preferable to vaccination. Perhaps I would feel differently if we were travelling to a country where polio is prevalent, but we aren’t. And though I do not believe cleanliness is next to godliness, I am starting to understand that it is a cornerstone of good health.

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