Poliomyelitis dates back to ancient times, as captured in this 14th century BC Egyptian carving, detailing a typical symptom of atrophy in one or more of the limbs.
The modern name is directly derived from Ancient Greek, poliós meaning ‘grey’ and myelós meaning ‘marrow’, the latter signifying the effect on the grey matter of the spinal cord.
But while the ancient Egyptians and Greeks knew about the disease, it wasn’t clinically described until the late 18th century (AD), by the English doctor Michael Underwood. The disease was finally ‘formalized’ in the 19th century, thanks to the work of physicians Jakob Heine, who completed the first study on the disease, and Karl Oskar Medin, the first to detail the epidemic nature of Poliomyelitis. This led to the illness often being referred to as Heine-Medin disease.
Polio is highly infectious and is spread through the fecal-oral exchange, mainly affecting children under the age of 5 but adult cases are not uncommon. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, and still neck.
Although the disease is feared for its more extreme outcomes, such as paralysis, these develop in only 1-2% of all cases. Less than 10% of cases are fatal, with as most infections being asymptomatic.
CAMPAIGN TO END POLIO
It is unknown how many deaths Polio has caused through the ages, but a significant global campaign has been in place since the 1950s as a response to the epidemic in the United States. 294,094 cases were reported from 1944 to 1953; 108,159 from 1954 to 1963; and 514 from 1964 to 1973. The campaign, combined with the effective vaccine, has led to the country being declared polio-free in 1979.
The establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988 had a huge impact on the fight to end polio. Over 2.5 billion children were vaccinated since then, with 20 million volunteers in 200 countries taking part in the campaign.
Fantastic progress has been made with wild cases dramatically reducing from an estimated global incidence of 350,000 in 1988 to only 33 reported cases in 2018 – but the work isn’t over yet. The infectious nature of the disease could easily lead to extensive outbreaks and see the numbers increase again, despite the effective vaccine, as has been recently observed with measles.
Although Type 2 has not been detected since 1999, nine outbreaks of vaccine-strain virus infection were reported since the OPV2 withdrawal in 2016, posing a threat to its complete eradication. The last reported case of Type 3 was in Nigeria, back in November 2012.
Now is the time for the final push to limit the disease to the history books (and databases). If you want to be a part of the solution, head over to End Polio Now and get involved! It could make the world of difference to those affected.
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Interested in learning more about this disease? Check out our 2020 eBook Poliomyelitis: Global Status