Lincolnshire Post-Polio Library - A Service of The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network
The late effects of Polio Information for Health Care Providers
Charlotte Leboeuf

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Polio first came under notice in Australia at the end of the 19th century. There have been two large outbreaks in modern times, one in the late 1930s and early 1940s and one about ten years later (1). The disease remained common into the early 1960s.

The number of people who were infected is unknown. It is estimated that about 0.1%, of infected individuals contracted the paralyitic disease and that between 5% and 10% of these died, usually due to respiratory failure (2). Incidence rates of between 10 and 20 cases of paralytic polio per 100,000 inhabitants each year were commonly experienced during epidemics (3).

During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s there were 592, 480 and 871 deaths respectively reported due to acute poliomyelitis in Australia. During the next 30 years there were only 87 such deaths. The last two were in 1977 and 1983 (3).

With the advent of the polio vaccines (Salk was introduced in Australia in 1956 and Sabin in 1966) and subsequent successful mass immunisation programmes, the disease became virtually eradicated in Australia as well as in all other developed countries.

Although acute poliomyelitis is a rare condition in Australia today, there are many people who have been left with a wide range of disabilities, which restrict and impede the activities of their daily living. People who experience respiratory insufficiency due to polio infection many years ago still die as a result of the disease. Since 1971 there have been an average of 7 such deaths per year (4).

Most people who had acute polio have no obvious, or only minor, sequelae of the disease today.

There is no central polio register in Australia. The number of survivors with severe, moderate, mild or absence of disability is unknown.


  1. Woodruff P. Two million South Australians. Peacock Publications. Kent Town, S.A.; 1984:82-8.
  2. Krupp MA, Chatton MJ. Current diagnosis and treatment. Lange Medical Publications, Los Altos CA; 1973:746-7.
  3. Assaad F, Ljungars-Esteves K. World overview of poliomyelitis: regional patterns and trends. Rev Infect Dis 1984;6 Suppl 2:S302-7 (abstract).
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics: Requested specific information on annual mortality from acute poliomyelitis.

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Copyright The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network 1997 2010

This document comprises an index, foreword, introduction and seventeen other sections or subdocuments. Permission for printing copies is granted only on the basis that ALL sections are printed in their entirety and kept together as a single document.

Document preparation: Chris Salter, Original Think-tank, Cornwall, United Kingdom.
Created: 7th July 1997
Last modification: 20th January 2010
Last information content change: 6th June 2000

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