In 1988, polio affected 350,000 children every single year — including in Europe and the US. It’s a horrific disease that can cause irreversible paralysis and even death.
Now, polio has been eradicated from all but three countries around the world: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. That means it is 99.9% eradicated, with just 22 cases recorded worldwide in 2017. We’re so nearly there, and that makes our fight to end the disease all the more pressing.
Here are some facts you might not know about the virulent disease.
1. The first clinical description of polio was provided by Michael Underwood, a British physician, in 1789.
2. The first outbreaks appeared in Europe in the early 1800s.
3. The first known outbreak in Canada was in 1910
4. Polio is an infectious disease caused by poliovirus. There are three strains of poliovirus. Type 2 was officially declared eradicated in September 2015 and type 3 has not been detected since November 2012. It is assumed that type 1 is the only type that remains and the cause for the few cases of polio that occur each year.
5. In 1916, New York experienced the first large epidemic in the United States, with more than 9,000 cases and 2,343 deaths. Nationwide there were 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths.
6. Polio mainly affects children under the age of 5.
7. Polio is highly contagious: An infected person can spread the virus to other people immediately before symptoms show up.
8. According to Rotary, 90% of people who get infected with poliovirus will not show any visible symptoms.
9. People who don’t show any symptoms can still infect others with the virus.
10. For those who do show symptoms, they are normally flu-like ones such as: sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, and stomach pain
11. Some people infected with poliovirus will experience more severe symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord, including paralysis and paresthesia.
12. Paralysis from poliovirus can lead to death because the virus affects the muscles that help us breathe.
13. In 1929, Philip Drinker and Louis Shaw created the iron lung, a respirator that provided breathing support for people with paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
14. In 1953, the disease reached its peak in Canada. There were almost 9,000 cases and 500 deaths. This was the worst national epidemic since the 1918 influenza pandemic.
15. There is no cure for polio, but it is preventable with a vaccine. There are two types of vaccine. IPV, which is an injected shot, was developed by Jonas Salk and declared safe in 1955. The other vaccine, OPV, is given orally in drop form and was developed by Albert Sabin and introduced in 1961
16. In 1988, the World Health Assembly established the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The goal was to eradicate the disease by the year 2000.
17. People who seem to make a full recovery can still develop post-polio syndrome that can cause new pain, weakness or paralysis, even 15 to 40 years later.