You are currently viewing Polio: History, Causes & Symptoms

Polio: History, Causes & Symptoms

The information you are going to get from this Article are:
1. What is polio? Is it a bacteria or virus?
2. Who discovered Poliomyelitis?
3. When did the first outbreak of polio happen in the US and when was it eradicated?
4. What is an “Iron lung” and who developed it?
5. Forms of Polio
6. What are the causes and symptoms of poliomyelitis?
7. What is a “Post-polio syndrome”
8. Is there any cure for Polio?
9. Can a polio patient be recovered?
10. What is the name of the polio vaccine and who invented the vaccine?


The word Poliomyelitis originated from the Greek word “Polio” which means Gray and “Myelon” which means Marrow, which is related to the tissue in the center of the spinal cord that causes paralysis when affected. Poliovirus is categorized as a member of the genus “Enterovirus” (It is a group of RNA that occurs in the gastrointestinal tract) and family “Picornaviridae” (a group of nonenveloped RNA viruses that cause infection in the vertebrates). Polio is a viral disease that affects the spinal cord. It is a life-threatening disease that can cause muscles weakness and paralysis.

Discovery of Polio

In 1908, Erwin Popper and Karl Landsteiner discovered that the infection-causing agents are smaller than bacteria (Virus) which cause Polio. They identify it by transmitting the extracted spinal cord fluid in it to the monkeys. The fluid was extracted from the spinal cord of a person who had died of Polio. In 1905, Ivar Wickman announced his findings of polio that polio is an infectious disease, and few polio patients don’t get the serious form of the disease.

The Polio Epidemic & Eradication

The first outbreak of Poliomyelitis happened in 1894 in the united states.  The large epidemic occurred in 1916 in New York City in the United States. The most serious occurring was in the 1940s and 1950s in which thousands of cases were reported and thousands of people died worldwide. But in 1988, The global polio eradication initiation (GPEI) was launched. This initiative gives the countries the biggest progress in achieving the goal of polio eradication. Today, polio is eradicated from the rest of the world except in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Iron Lung

Polio not only paralyzed the arms and legs but also paralyzed the muscles used for breathing and the diaphragm. For avoiding this problem an artificial respiration device (Iron lung) was invented by “Philip Drinker” and “Dr. Louis Shaw” at Harvard University in 1927. The iron lung (Drinker tank) is a sealed tube-like structure that encloses the patient’s whole body except the head. It uses pressure to force the air in and out of the lungs helping the patient in breathing

Forms of Poliomyelitis

1. Paralytic Polio

It is a serious form of polio that affects the central nervous system. Rarely 1% of polio cases can acquire (develop) paralytic polio. When this condition starts the muscles become weak, and the person becomes completely paralyzed. Paralytic polio has three types: 

1. (Spinal Polio) which paralyzes the spinal cord. It is the most frequent form. About 79% of paralytic cases are due to spinal polio. 

2. (Bulbar Polio) causes paralysis in the brainstem. And when polio enters the brain it paralyzed the muscles group present in the chest for breathing and swallowing. Death can be caused due to this.

3. (Bulbospinal polio) in which both the spinal cord and brainstem get paralyzed. About 19% of paralytic polio cases are resulting from bulbospinal polio. 

Symptoms of paralytic polio are fever and headache as initial symptoms but after a week the symptoms become serious such as severe aches or weaknesses in muscles, loss of reflexes, immediate paralysis which may be temporary or permanent, deformed limbs, etc.

2. Non Paralytic Polio (NPP)

Non-paralytic or abortive (ineffective) polio is less severe as compared to paralytic polio. As it does not attack the central nervous system. Symptoms of this type are Fever, neck pain, Meningitis, Fatigue, Headache, Vomiting, back pain, Abdominal pain, pain in the arms and legs, etc.

Causes & Symptoms of Poliomyelitis

It spread through sneezing, coughing, poor hand washing, poor hygiene, eating contaminated food. It also spread due to fecal-oral contact. This virus enters through the nose or mouth and gets into the digestive tract and respiratory system. Symptoms of this disease differ from mild flu to death or permanent immobility. Children under 5 are at a higher risk of getting polio. The biggest problem with this disease is that it can spread easily without any symptoms and can cause infection in others. 

Post Polio Syndrome (PPS)

This is the disorder that affects the polio patient long after he or she recovers from the disease. It affects the person with new signs and symptoms. Muscle weakness, muscle and joint pain, extreme tiredness, sleep apnea, breathing and swallowing problems are the symptoms of PPS.


Polio has no cure but it can be treated to alleviate the symptoms. In the treatment, muscles are energized by heating and physical therapy to avoid the loss of muscle functioning, and drugs are used. The treatment can’t reverse permanent polio.


People with milder polio symptoms recovered in 1 to 2 weeks but patients with severe conditions can become paralyzed for life and some people may also die.

Polio Vaccine

In the 1950s, Jonas Salk, the American scientist invented the Polio Vaccine, known as Inactivated poliovirus (IPV). The vaccine contained the killed virus and was given by injection. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent polio. There are two or four doses of the polio vaccine. Two doses of vaccine are 90% effective. Three doses are 99% to 100% effective and those who take four doses are considered fully vaccinated.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. top site

    It is remarkable, rather amusing answer

Leave a Reply