disease; paralysis; virus; infection; immunisation;
Polio is a disease that used to cause problems all over the world, but now it only happens in very few parts of the world because children every where else have been immunised against polio.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been working very hard to make sure that everyone can be immunized against polio so that this disease can be stamped out in the whole world.
What is polio?
Poliomyelitis (say po-lio-my-el-eye-tis) – or polio for short - is the result an infection which rarely causes some children and adults to lose the ability to move parts of their body (paralysis). Maybe they cannot move their legs or arms, or sometimes they cannot even breathe by themselves.
Children under 5 are most at risk of catching polio but only a few develop problems with movement.
How is polio caught?
Polio is a very infectious disease. It is passed from one person to another through contact with faeces (say fee-sees, you may call it poo).
Often the germs are in the water that people drink or the food that they eat.
What are the effects of polio virus infection?
It causes a virus infection in the bowel.
Most people who get the infection do not become ill with it but a few people become ill with a bad headache, feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting (throwing up).
A very small number of these people get paralysis (pa-ra-li-sis) of parts of their body.
In the olden days
Polio has been around for many centuries. There are even pictures from ancient Egypt which show that many people suffered from the disease.
There have been several polio epidemics in Australia. The last one was in 1961-62. People who got polio were put into isolation (kept away from other people).
Some had trouble with breathing and needed a machine to do their breathing for them. These were called respirators but were often known as 'iron lungs'.
Paralysed legs were sometimes strapped to metal rods (splints) to try to keep them straight. This was done in the hope that one day the paralysis would pass and the person would be able to use the limbs again.
People may have needed to use crutches or a wheelchair.
What kids say
- "My dad's grandma had polio. She was in a wheelchair for a while then she learned to walk again but she always walked with a limp." Alex
- "My mum's friend had polio and he couldn't walk. But he learnt how to drive a car using hand controls." David
- "I read about a lady who had polio and she lived for 60 years in a machine that helped her breathe." Megan
How to avoid polio
In Australia polio vaccines are given at the ages of 2, 4 and 6 months, and another dose before the child starts school.
Some other vaccines are given at the same time. These protect children from getting tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, rota virus gastro, hepatitis B and Hib. This last one is to protect against a germ which can cause ear and throat infections, and meningitis (an infection around the brain) in young children. Other immunisations that children get at different ages are against measles, mumps and rubella.
Dr Kate says
In Australia no-one has been paralysed by polio since 1977. The reason for this is that people have been immunised against it not just here but in almost all countries of the world. So, even if people brought the polio virus to Australia the disease would not cause paralysis in anyone else because they have been immunized.
This is good because there have been times when polio caused many children to be very sick and have to spend their days being unable to run around and play like other kids.
If you want to know more about what is being done to get rid of polio from the whole world you could look at information on the WHO website http://www.who.int/topics/poliomyelitis/en/
Do you know that Health Authorities all over the world have worked with the World Health Organisation to immunise children for any years? They have even stopped wars for a few days in some countries by declaring Days of Tranquility when thousands of health workers and volunteers immunised all the children in the war zones.
If you want to know more about polio in Australia you could look at the topic Poliovirus infection - including symptoms, treatment and prevention on the South Australian Health Department site.
We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.