Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease that largely affects children under 5 years of age. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.
This disease once struck fear into the hearts of parents in Ireland, particularly during the 40s and 50s when epidemics left many children with lifelong disabilities, or in some cases paralysed, facing years of rehabilitation and operations.
Polio is highly infectious, yet up to 90% of those infected experience no or mild symptoms. In others, initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs. These symptoms usually last for 2–10 days and most recovery is complete in almost all cases.
However, in other cases the virus causes paralysis, usually of the legs, which is most often permanent. Paralysis can occur as rapidly as within a few hours of infection. Of those paralysed, 5-10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised. That is why you will see old photos of children, and adults, in iron lungs, a machine like a coffin that helps you breathe.
You can read about one of our founding members, Jim Costello and his experience of life in an iron lung by clicking here.
As a result of vaccination, polio is eradicated from Ireland, however it is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where efforts to End Polio Now continue, thanks to the World Health Organisation, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Only recently (August 2020) it was announced that Africa is polio free.
Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) / Late Effects of Polio
When they hear about Polio Survivors Ireland, many people say ‘I thought polio was gone‘.
Although polio is eradicated from Ireland and much of the world, in fact as many as 7,000 polio survivors are living in Ireland with disabilities from this disease. Their condition is known as Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), or, Late Effects of Polio.
Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) is a neurological condition resulting in new symptoms in people who had polio years earlier, but whose condition has been stable for at least 15 years. PPS can occur from 20 to 40 years after the initial illness, bringing new muscle weakness as the main symptom.
Late Effects of Polio are where someone doesn’t develop Post Polio Syndrome and experience new weakness, but they may have other issues as a result of walking a specific way, wear and tear on joints or over-compensation.
Read more in our Late_effects_of_Polio_Leaflet
Support & Help
Polio is gone, but the legacy of polio is the ongoing support and help required by polio survivors.
“We’re still here.”
Polio survivors are still here and our organisation exists to help all those who had polio as babies or young children – if you or someone you know needs our support, please contact us, we will listen and help.