What parents need to know about polio

Most cases of polio occur in children under the age of 5, but experts say vaccination can protect against the potentially fatal disease. (Photo: Getty Images)

Polio is not usually a concern for parents – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been no polio cases in the US since 1979, thanks to vaccines.

But after the polio virus was recently found in sewage in New York City, some parents may have concerns or questions, given that polio was once considered “one of the most dangerous diseases in the United States,” according to the CDC.

Here’s what parents need to know about polio and what they can do to protect their children.

How is polio transmitted?

Poliomyelitis is “abbreviation of poliomyelitis, a disease of the central nervous system caused by poliovirus infection.” Richard Lloyd, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life.

The highly contagious and life-threatening disease is often transmitted from person to person by the “fecal-oral route,” says Dr. Ashley Lipps, MD, an infectious disease physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that people are “contaminated with the feces of an infected person” by “swallowing something,” such as water or food.

As the CDC points out, “if your child puts things like toys in their mouths, they can become infected.” Plus, “Changing an infected baby’s diaper is a way to spread the disease,” says Lloyd. According to the CDC, droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can also spread the disease.

How dangerous is polio?

Most cases of polio are asymptomatic, but about 1 in 4 people develop flu-like symptoms, including sore throat, fever, fatigue, nausea, headache, and stomach ache, which usually last two to five days. CDC.

However, in some cases, the virus can cause “severe disease,” Dr. Pedro Piedra, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life when it affects the brain or spinal cord. “A small percentage of people with polio can develop devastating neurological complications, such as meningitis and paralysis,” says Lipps. “The paralysis is permanent and can be fatal.” This is because, in severe cases, the virus affects the muscles that help a person breathe.

According to Lipps, children who fully recover from polio can develop neurological complications, such as muscle weakness or paralysis and joint pain, called “post-polio syndrome.” Specifically, these symptoms can begin 15 to 40 years after the initial infection, according to the CDC. But unlike polio itself, post-polio syndrome is not contagious.

Why is polio more common in children than in adults?

Most cases of polio occur in children under 5 years of age. “Historically, polio has mostly been a disease of children because children are unprotected, unvaccinated and can become infected and then develop serious disease,” explains Lloyd. “That’s why the United States and the WHO have had robust infant immunization programs for decades, and vaccinations have been required for school entry in the United States.”

Polio can be caused by “poor hygiene practices,” Lipps says, because it’s spread through faecal contamination. “Babies and young children who are not potty-trained are more prone to transmission,” she says.

How to prevent polio?

Experts say the widespread use of the polio vaccine made all the difference in eradicating polio cases in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. number of people with permanent disabilities”. He notes that in the late 1940s, about 35,000 people a year were crippled by polio.

“We’ve had polio vaccines since before childhood,” Piedra says. “The National Polio Foundation, which became the March of Dimes, was created to fight polio, which led to the development of two effective vaccines.”

They are inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) — an injection given in the leg or arm, depending on the patient’s age — and oral polio vaccine, but IPV has been the only polio vaccine available in the US since 2000. CDC. (The oral vaccine, given as a drop in the mouth, is still used in some other countries.)

“The first vaccine was developed in 1955, and shortly thereafter polio cases dropped dramatically,” says Lipps. “As a result of highly successful vaccination efforts, the last case of polio was reported in the United States in 1979. However, polio still occurs in other countries, and travelers can bring polio into the country.”

Like COVID-19, “polio virus can always be brought back to the United States or other countries by travelers who have been infected abroad,” Lloyd said. “That’s what happened with the recently discovered polio in New York. “This threat will not disappear until the virus is eradicated worldwide.”

How worried should parents be about polio?

Parents who vaccinate their children should not worry about their children contracting polio, Lloyd said.

Lipps noted that cases of polio in the United States are “extremely rare.” In fact, today “there is only one known case of polio in the United States,” says Lloyd. That’s largely because “a very high percentage of Americans are vaccinated,” he says.

Polio vaccine is given as part of childhood immunization. A series of four doses generally begins at 2 months of age, followed by one dose at 4 months, another dose at 6 to 18 months, and then at 4 to 6 years of age. “Those at increased risk for polio include people who have not completed the full vaccine series and people who have traveled internationally to areas where polio is common,” Lipps says.

What can parents do to protect their children?

There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented with the polio vaccine. Lipps notes that the vaccine is highly effective — three doses are 99 to 100 percent effective against polio, according to the CDC. “This is the most successful vaccine ever developed,” says Lloyd. “Use it.”

“The most important thing to protect children against polio is to make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccinations,” says Lipps.

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