What you need to know about poliomyelitis: vaccines, symptoms and how it spreads


The CDC estimates that one in 200 people with polio have paralysis or weakness in the arms, legs, or both. The paralysis usually occurs on one side of the body, said Dr. Gail Shust, pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health. In rare cases, polio-related paralysis can be fatal because the virus can affect the muscles that support breathing.

Even after recovering from polio, a person can develop muscle pain, weakness or paralysis 15 to 40 years later. Children recovering from polio can suffer from post-polio syndrome in adulthood, with muscle weakness, fatigue and joint pain that sets in decades after their initial infection. It’s unclear why only some people develop post-polio syndrome, but those who have had severe cases of polio may be more susceptible.

Poliomyelitis is highly contagious. It is passed from person to person – usually when a person comes into contact with an infected person’s feces and then touches their mouth. This is of particular concern for children under 5 who, according to Dr. Esper, may have difficulty washing their hands. “Every adult who has kids knows that’s how germs are spread,” he said. Less commonly, poliomyelitis can be spread when droplets from an infected person sneezing or coughing enter someone’s mouth.

And like Covid-19, it’s possible to spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

The oral polio vaccine, which helped the United States eliminate polio and is no longer given in the country, contains weakened live poliovirus. It is safe and effective, but in very rare cases the weakened virus from the vaccine can revert to a form that can cause paralysis in other people. This primarily affects unvaccinated people, to whom the vaccine-derived virus can spread, and immunocompromised people, who may not have developed immunity to the vaccine. In exceptionally rare cases – about one in every 2.4 million doses of oral vaccine – the weakened live virus can cause paralysis in the person who received the vaccine, said Dr Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at the Hospital. for children of Philadelphia. But the main concern is that the vaccine virus could circulate and spread in underimmunized communities.

Health officials in New York confirmed that the person from Rockland County had been exposed to someone who received the oral polio vaccine, which mutated into a pathogenic form of the virus. The person from Rockland County has not been vaccinated, making him vulnerable to polio.

The oral polio vaccine has not been administered in the United States since 2000. Today, the polio vaccine in the United States is a very effective vaccine, which does not contain live virus, unlike the oral vaccine.

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