Polio Eradication Awareness Week

Compiled by and Indhrannie Pillay

National Polio Eradication Awareness Week is celebrated from the 1-7 April 2007. Poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, is a viral disease which affects the central nervous system. Polio is a contagious disease and is primarily transmitted through the feaces. Unhygienic conditions such as contaminated water and not washing hands after using the toilet increases the transmission of the disease from one person to the other. Flu Like symptoms

The virus enters through the mouth and multiplies in the pharynx and gastrointestinal tract. The virus usually lays dominant in the throat and in the stools for about a week before an onset of the disease occurs. There are three forms of polio which affects the victim. Abortive polio is a mild form of the disease. Many people with this form of polio do not even suspect that they are infected with it because they resemble flu like symptoms. Mild upper respiratory infection, diarrhea, fever, sore throat and a general feeling of being ill are the symptoms of this type of polio. Nonparalytic polio is a more serious form than abortive polio. Approximately 1% to 5% of polio victims suffer from this form of disease. Symptoms of Nonparalytic polio are sensitivity to light and stiffness of the neck. People who have abortive polio or nonparalytic polio usually make a full recovery. However, paralytic polio, the third form of polio, is the most fatal form of the disease and could even result in death. The virus invades the bodies’ lymphoid tissue, enters into the blood-stream, and starts to attack cells in the central nervous system. The poliovirus then replicates itself in the motor neurons and destroys stem cells, which control muscle movement, in the brain. The virus paralyses the muscles used for swallowing and breathing causing respiratory difficulty. If the virus spreads to the spinal chord, it destroys nerves in the spinal chord and can cause paralysis of the arms, legs, or trunk of the body.


The World Health Organization (WHO) is working toward eradicating polio and has made significant strides in doing so. In 1988, 355,000 cases of polio in 125 countries were reported. By the end of 2004, there were just 1,255 cases reported world wide.


Polio is more common in infants and young children than in adults. If an adult does become infected with it, they are most likely to develop paralytic polio. There is currently no cure for polio, however it is a preventable disease. Children must be immunized against the disease before the age of five. There are two polio vaccines available, trivalent oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), to combat the disease. The IPV stimulates the bodie’s immune system through production of antibodies to fight off the virus if it comes into contact with it. The OPV vaccine allows for large populations to be immunized because it is easy to administer, and it provides "contact" immunization. The problem with OPV is that, in very rare cases, paralytic polio could develop either in immunized children or in those who came in contact with them. Therefore the IVP vaccine is a much safer means to immunize against the disease. Immunisation not only protects the individual but also curbs the spread of disease in communities.