Polio is a viral infectious disease spread from person to person, usually by the fecal-oral route. The disease is also known under the name poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis. This infection is responsible for some of the most severe cases of paralysis, difficulty breathing and even death. In most of the cases, this infection causes no symptoms at all. If it enters the blood stream, it usually manifests in a wide range of complications. Only a small number of patients, about 1% of all cases, suffer from the most severe type of infection, where the virus enters the central nervous system destroying the motor neurons. The resulting effect is the irreversible muscular weakness and the acute flaccid paralysis.
History of the disease
Polio was first recognized by Jakob Heine in 1984, but the exact cause of the disease was not identified before 1908, when the Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner discovered poliovirus. The major epidemics affected the Europe in 1880, and quickly spread to the United States. Until the 1910, most of the world was severely affected. The disease was one of the most severe childhood diseases during the 20th century. It crippled thousands of children and caused much death and disability. A vaccine is finally developed in the 1950’s slowly leading to the global eradication of the infection.
The last case of polio in the United States occurred in 1979. The Americas have been certified as free from polio in 1994, and the 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia, officially announced eradication in 2000. A couple of years ago, back in 2002, the virus was officially eradicated from Europe, too. However, it is still a major health concern in the undeveloped countries, especially in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the virus continues to cause epidemics in many nearby countries. Even the travelers to these parts of the world are advised to take special precautions to protect against polio infection. Even the persons that are previously vaccinated should receive a booster dose of inactivated poliovirus, before traveling to a foreign country where there is a risk of polio.
A global effort to provide poliovirus vaccine to all the parts of the world started in 1950’s and continued until today. During the many years, the incidence of polio infection dramatically decreased in many parts of the world. A global campaign is led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The Rotary Foundation, but many governments, nongovernmental organizations, volunteers, journalists, artists and individuals, also supported the cause.