What is Poliomyelitis?


Poliomyelitis, or polio, has been largely eliminated worldwide by global vaccination campaigns conducted over many years. The global incidence of polio cases has been reduced by 99%. However, today poliovirus continues to circulate in only two countries namely, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with outbreaks occurring in groups of people who have not been vaccinated. Failure to stop polio in these areas could result in a global resurgence of the disease. Therefore, it is critical to eradicate polio as soon as possible.

Today, we will be discussing polio in detail with Dr. Hanif Kamal – Infectious Disease Specialist and find out ways to eliminate polio once and for all.

What is Polio?

Dr. Hanif speaks, “Polio is a potentially paralysing viral infection that only occurs in humans.” Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus viral disease that can affect nerves and can lead to partial or full paralysis. It most commonly affects children under the age of five. The virus spreads from person to person and can attack the nervous system, causing paralysis (unable to move certain limbs). It can also lead to trouble breathing and sometimes death.

There are three variations of poliovirus, called wild poliovirus types 1, 2 and 3 (WPV1, WPV2 and WPV3). Wild polio types 2 and 3 have been eradicated (no longer exist), and wild polio type 1 only exists in a few parts of the world. Polio type 1 is most likely to cause paralysis.

Poliovirus gets into the body through the mouth or nose. It makes more copies of itself (reproduces) in the throat and gut (intestines). In severe cases, Dr. Hanif explains that it gets into the brain and spinal cord causing paralysis. Paralysis can affect the arms, legs or the muscles that control breathing.

Who is at Risk?

A person who is not vaccinated is most at risk for polio or someone who:

▪ Lives in or travels to an area where polio has not been eliminated.

▪ Lives in or travels to an area with poor sanitation.

▪ Is under five.

▪ Is pregnant.


Poliovirus is very contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. The virus can spread by:

▪ Not washing hands after using the washroom.

▪ Touching the poop (faeces) of an infected person.

▪ Drinking contaminated water or getting it in the mouth.

▪ Eating foods that have touched contaminated water.

▪ Swimming in contaminated water.

▪ Droplets from coughing or sneezing.

▪ Being in close contact with someone with polio.

▪ Touching contaminated surfaces.

An infected person can spread the virus to others immediately before and up to 2 weeks after symptoms appear.

▪ The virus can live in an infected person’s intestines for many weeks. It can contaminate food and water in unsanitary conditions.

▪ People who do not have symptoms can still pass the virus to others and make them sick.


Most people who get infected with poliovirus will not have any visible symptoms, the rest of the people might have flu-like symptoms that can include:

▪ Sore throat

▪ Fever

▪ Tiredness

▪ Nausea

▪ Headache

▪ Stomach pain

▪ Upset stomach

▪ Back or neck pain

▪ Muscle weakness

▪ Vomiting

These symptoms usually last 2 to 5 days, then go away on their own. A smaller proportion of people with poliovirus infection will develop other, more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord are meningitis and paralysis.


A doctor may diagnose polio by performing a physical exam, taking a detailed medical history, including vaccination history, testing samples of body fluids, and asking about the symptoms. It is important to inform the doctor about any travel history.

The doctor might take samples of body fluids to look for signs of polio or other infections, including:

▪ Spit (saliva) from the throat.

▪ Poop (stool).

▪ Blood.

▪ Cerebrospinal fluid (liquid around the brain and spinal cord).

Because polio symptoms look a lot like flu symptoms, the doctor may do other tests to rule out more common conditions.


According to Dr. Hanif, “There is no medicine to fight poliovirus. The only goal is to control symptoms while the infection runs its course.”

Physical or occupational therapy can help with arm or leg weakness caused by polio and might improve long-term outcomes, especially if implemented early in the course of the illness.

The symptoms might be improved by:

▪ Antibiotics for urinary tract infections.

▪ Drinking fluids (such as water, juice and broth).

▪ Using heat packs to help reduce muscle pain and spasms.

▪ Taking pain relievers to reduce headaches, muscle pain, and spasms.

▪ Doing physical therapy and any exercise recommended by the doctor.

▪ Getting plenty of rest.


“There is no cure, only prevention,” says Dr. Hanif. The best way to prevent polio is to get vaccinated. Vaccination is usually done in childhood. If someone missed the polio vaccination as a child or is not sure about it, ask the doctor if they should get vaccinated.

There are two types of vaccines that can prevent polio:

▪ Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) given as an injection in the leg or arm, depending on the patient’s age.

▪ Oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) is still used throughout much of the world.

Polio vaccine protects children by preparing their bodies to fight the poliovirus. Almost all children (more than 99%) who get all the recommended doses of the inactivated polio vaccine will be protected from polio.


The provision of clean water, improved hygienic practices and sanitation are important for reducing the risk of transmission of polio virus. Practising good self-hygiene and washing hands regularly with soap and water is vital to prevent poliovirus apart from immunization. The Polio vaccine, given multiple times may protect a child for life. Lastly, the best way to get rid of polio across the world is to make sure all people are immunized.

To book an appointment with Infectious Disease Specialist – Dr. Hanif Kamal at the Shifaam Online Clinic, click www.shifaam.com, download the Shifaam Health App or call us at 021-37132273. You can also message us on WhatsApp: 0347-7222273. 

Visit our Paeds Neurology Clinic in collaboration with Hashmanis Medical Centre on Main Shaheed e Millat Road, Karachi for any Pediatric Neurology concerns. 

For emotional support press on the link https://m.facebook.com/groups/792360684792617/ to join our Childhood Epilepsy Support Group on Facebook. 

Tune in to https://www.facebook.com/shifaamcares for weekly awareness sessions on various health-related topics.

If you think you or someone in your family has symptoms of polio, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. For more information on Infectious Disease Specialists in Karachi or an appointment with an experienced doctor contact shifaam today and click on the links below:




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