A practical approach to the late effects of Polio
Polio (poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis as it has also been called) is a viral disease that was common in the Western world until the early 1960s. There were two particularly large epidemic outbreaks, one in the late 1930s and early 1940s and the other about ten years later (1). It has been estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 people had polio in Australia from 1930 onwards (2). Between 1930 and 1960 there were approximately 2,000 reported deaths due to acute polio (2).
If you are one of the many people who had polio, you may, at the time, have experienced some or all of the following:
According to medical textbooks about 1% of all polio infections progress to this stage.
The virus favours certain parts of the spinal cord and brain stem where neurones (=nerve cells) become destroyed. These areas are related to the motor (=movement) function of nerves. As a result muscles which are commanded by the nerve cells in these areas of the spinal cord become affected. Depending on the extent of destruction these muscles become totally or partially paralysed. Unlike most spinal cord injuries (supposedly) only the motor function is affected, leaving intact the ability to feel pain, touch, heat, cold etc.
Many mild infections went undetected but in obvious cases of polio during the large epidemics, isolation in infectious diseases hospitals was common. If you were unable to breathe properly your breathing may have been assisted with mechanical tank respiration or, in less severe cases, with other respiratory aids such as the "rocking bed". Between 5% and 10% of all paralytic cases resulted in death due to inability to breathe.
For many people the recovery period was a period of active rehabilitation. The main goals were to improve function and strength, to prevent deformities and to compensate for lost function. Sometimes surgery was necessary to provide functional improvement, e.g. through transfer of tendons, fusion of unstable joints and surgical correction of bony abnormalities. However, for most people, recovery was gradual and spontaneous.
Please note, that although I am talking about past acute polio as you may have experienced it, polio itself is not a thing of the past. The disease is still as common in other parts of the world as it once was in Australia.
© Copyright The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network 1997 - 2010.
This document comprises an index, introduction and sixteen 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
Think-tank, Cornwall, United Kingdom.
Created: 30th December 1997
Last modification: 20th January 2010.