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Mention Polio to most parents and they assume that it’s a disease of the past. Sadly, this is not the case. Although it was virtually eliminated from the Western hemisphere in the second half of the 20th century, polio is still with us.

Polio is an acute contagious viral illness, caused by the polio virus. It affects the muscles and nerves throughout the body and may cause permanent paralysis or even lead to death.

There are three patterns of polio infection: Subclinical, paralytic and non-paralytic. 95% of infections are subclinical, which go unnoticed. This makes it particularly dangerous. Since the development and use of vaccines against polio, the disease has become far less common, but not non-existent!

​What causes polio?


This highly contagious virus can be transmitted by contact with secretions from the nose, mouth or faeces of an infected person. It can also spread through direct contact with an infected person.

In areas with poor sanitation, polio is usually spread through a faecal-oral route. This is generally not a problem in Singapore, but can be an issue if you travel to places with unsanitary conditions.

The polio virus enters through the nose and mouth, multiplying in the nose and intestinal tract. It is then absorbed and spread through the blood and lymphatic system. The incubation period (the time from being infected to the appearance of symptoms) is 7 to 14 days.

​Is my child at risk?


Your child could be at risk of polio if they haven’t been immunised against the disease. Although polio affects people of all ages, infants and children are particularly vulnerable to infection.

Signs and symptoms


Sufferers of polio have the following symptoms:
  • ​In mild cases – headache, slight fever, nausea and vomiting for up to 3 days.
  • In slightly more severe cases – moderate fever, muscle pain, stiff neck and back fatigue.
  • In even more severe cases – fever, muscle pain or spasms, muscle weakness, stiffness, constipation, tremor and difficulty with swallowing.
Effects of post-polio infection include:
  • Onset of progressive muscular weakness in muscles affected during the original infection. However, other muscles that do not seem to be affected during the original infection, may also be affected.
  • Joint pain and fatigue.
  • Memory and concentration levels may be adversely affected.
  • In fewer incidences, muscles may become smaller (atrophy).
  • Difficulty with swallowing and extended periods of fatigue.

​Complications


If a person is infected with paralytic polio, they can develop severe physical disabilities due to muscle paralysis and deformities of the hips, ankles and feet. Polio can also cause serious complications to other organs such as the lungs, intestines, kidneys and heart.

Is there a treatment?

Right now, there is no cure for polio – it can only be prevented by vaccination. Some symptoms can be treated. Antibiotics may be used to treat symptoms like urinary tract infections. Bethanechol is used to reduce urine retention. Analgesics are used to reduce headaches and muscle pain.

​What can you do prevent childhood polio?


The most effective way to prevent the disease is getting vaccinated. Immunisation against polio is recommended for all children from 3 to 18 months of age. Vaccination against Polio combined into one injection called "DTaP-IPV+HIB vaccine (5 in 1)" or "DTaP-IPV+HIB+ Hep B vaccine (6 in 1)”.

Two booster doses should be given to all children, the 1st booster at 18 months with the above combination vaccine. The 2nd Booster in the form of oral polio is given in school at 11 years of age (Primary 5).

The 5-in-1 combination vaccine is provided free of charge by the government at polyclinics for Singapore citizens.

It is also important to practise good personal hygiene to reduce the spread of the polio virus.

Polio can be eradicated, and with your help, we can make polio history!

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