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Vaccination effective in preventing polio

POLIOMYELITIS, more commonly referred to simply as polio, is a contagious viral illness that can cause nerve injury, leading to paralysis, difficulty breathing and in some cases death.

It is commonest in children under the age of five.

According to the Cleverland Clinic in the United States of America, research has shown that of every 200 polio infections, one leads to paralysis, usually in the legs. Five to 10% of people paralysed by polio die because they cannot use their muscles to breathe.

Some people who contract polio in their early lives will still need medical health care for symptoms years after the infection.

A decision at the World Health Assembly in 1988 to work towards the eradication of polio through vaccinations has been largely successful with a 99% reduction in cases between 1988 and 2018 from an estimated 355 000 cases to just 33 reported cases, according to the World Health Organisation.

The World Health Organisation regions of the Americas, Europe and South-East Asia have been certified polio free.

However, as long as there is even one person with polio, there remains the danger of resurgence in cases, since polio is highly contagious.

October 24 was World Polio Day, a day that is observed to increase awareness about polio andto encourage vaccinations against polio in areas not yet free of it as part of efforts to completely eradicate it.


Polio is caused by the poliovirus, a waterborne virus that enters the body through the mouth or nose, moving into the digestive and respiratory system.

It multiplies in the throat and intestines. It can then move into the bloodstream and attack the nervous system.

It can be transmitted through direct contact with someone infected with the virus or through contaminated food and water. People carrying the poliovirus can spread it for weeks in their faeces.

Those infected with the virus, who do not display symptoms of polio can pass the virus to others.


Although polio can cause paralysis and death, the majority of people who are infected with the virus do not become sick and are not aware they have been infected. Not everyone who does display symptoms becomes paralysed. There are differences in the symptoms for polio that leads to paralysis and polio that does not result on paralysis.

Non-paralytic polio

Polio that doesnot lead to paralysisis referred to as abortive polio. This usually causes the same mild, flu-like signs and symptoms typical of other viral illnesses.

Common signs and symptoms include fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, back pain or stiffness, neck pain or stiffness and pain or stiffness in the arms or legs. Other symptoms include muscle weakness or tenderness. These may last for up to 10 days.

Paralytic polio

Paralytic polio is the most serious form of the disease. Initial signs and symptoms of paralytic polio, such as fever and headache, are similar to those of non-paralytic polio.

However, other signs and symptoms appear within a week.These include loss of reflexes, severe muscle aches or weakness as well as loose and floppy limbs.

Post-polio syndrome

Post-polio syndrome is a cluster of disabling signs and symptoms that affect some people years after having polio. Common signs and symptoms include progressive muscle or joint weakness and pain.

Other symptoms include fatigue, muscle wasting, breathing or swallowing problems, sleep related breathing disorders such as sleep apnoea and decreased tolerance of cold temperatures.


Vaccination is the key to prevention of polio. It is through vaccination that polio has been eliminated in those regions certified as free of polio.

People are generally vaccinated as babies.

In Zimbabwe, the oral polio vaccination (OPV) is given to babies at six, 10 and 14 weeks old and then again at 18 months. In January 2018 the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) was introduced. It is now also being administered to babies when they are 14 weeks old.

IPV can cause an allergic reaction in some people. It should not be given to anyone who has reacted to Streptomycin, Polymyxin B and Neomycin antibiotics because the vaccine contains trace amounts of these medications.

Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction usually occur within minutes to a few hours after the vaccine has been administered. These include difficulty breathing, weakness, hoarseness or wheezing, rapid heart rate, hives and dizziness.

IPV is safe for people with weakened immune systems. There is however no certainty how protective the vaccine is in cases of severe immune deficiency.

Common side effects of the vaccine are pain and redness at the injection site.

Most adults do not need to have a polio vaccine because they were probably vaccinated as children. However, anyone, whether child or adult, who has not been vaccinated is at risk of polio.

Adults at risk of polio, such as those travelling to an area where polio still exists or caring for people who have polio, should have a booster IPV injection if they were vaccinated as children or a series of primary IPV injections over a period, if they were not vaccinated. They should also consider being vaccinated if they are working in a laboratory and handling specimens that might contain polioviruses or have close contact with a person who could be infected with the poliovirus.


There is no cure for polio.  Those who have it can be made to feel comfortable by taking fluids such as water, juice and broth. Pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken. Heat to soothe the muscles can also be applied.

  • The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — igo@cimas.co.zw or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.

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