Most inhabitants of industrialized countries know poliomyelitis only by what they have read about it in history books.
Thanks to vaccination, iron lungs, legs paralysis and sometimes-even death caused by that terrible disease are not to be feared anymore. Since 1979 no new case of polio was reported in Belgium.
Unfortunately, in some extremely poor countries, poliomyelitis still remains a plague that compromises the future of healthy children.
Poliomyelitis often simply referred to as “polio” is an intestinal viral infection that can reach the spinal chord or the brain. In this case, it can lead to paralysis.
The virus generally penetrates into the organism through the oral cavity and then multiplies in the throat and intestines. Paralysis due to poliomyelitis is nearly always irreversible.
Before systematic vaccination, outbreak of the disease used to occur around autumn. This disease is mainly transmitted by faecal contamination of foods or water. Sputtering coming from cough or sneeze can also transmit it. In most cases (90 %), poliovirus infection is asymptomatic. When symptoms trigger off, they are brutal with fever, headache, malaise, stiffness of the neck and back pains.
The disease could make no progress for some patients. Unfortunately, some others develop a paralysis, generally of the legs. Pain can be severe and loss of muscle mass is frequent in paralysed zones. A patient can die if the deglutition or respiratory muscles are affected. A residual paralysis is observed in surviving patients.
A vaccine capable of eradicating that disease was developed in 1955. The World Health Assembly decided in 1988 to eradicate polio in the world. After smallpox, polio would then be the second disease in history to be eradicated. That same year a world initiative for polio eradication was launched.
The World Health Organization had announced on the 15 May 2000 that, despite the fact that the poliovirus would probably still be around in about twenty countries, the initiative for poliomyelitis eradication would be on the right track to get to the world eradication certification in 2005. But with more than 700 cases still reported in the world in 2004, the World Health Organization initiative has postponed its deadline to 2008.
The disease is still endemic in 2005 in six countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
Vaccination against poliomyelitis is the only mandatory one in Belgium. For the time being, it is the inactivated injectable polio vaccine that is used. Conceived in 1955 by Dr Jonas Salk, it does not contain any living germs. That vaccine stimulates the immune system without provoking any infection. The possibility to combine polio vaccine and other vaccines for children allows reducing the troubles due to injections.
When polio has disappeared from the surface of the globe, vaccination against polio will not be necessary anymore. The perspective of worldwide eradication is close. In the meantime, the countries where polio has been eradicated still have to insure high rates of routine vaccination cover in order to avoid reinstallation of the poliovirus in the case of import from other countries or to insure the protection of Belgians travelling abroad.
Federal Public Service (FPS) Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment
Place Victor Horta, 40 box 10
Contact Center: +32 (0)2 524.97.97
Published on 14/10/2008 – Page last updated on 14/10/2008