What is polio?

Researchers suspect polio has been an epidemic in humans for millennia, paralyzing and killing children by the thousands. As recently as 1952, there were an estimated 58,000 cases of polio in the United States alone, with one-third of the patients being paralyzed. Of these cases, more than 3,000 died.

The disease is an old malady for humans and circulated wildly for centuries. Increased exposure to the virus resulted in boosted immunity, especially in children. Sanitation methods improved during the 18th century in many countries, reducing the spread of the disease. That decreased natural immunity and the chances of exposure at a very young age. As more people encountered the virus when they were older, the number of paralytic cases skyrocketed in developed nations.

While there's no cure for polio, a polio vaccine was perfected in the early 1950s. Cases in the United States and other developed nations have dropped dramatically since then. Only a handful of developing nations continue to experience polio at epidemic levels.

Polio is an infection that is caused by poliovirus. The virus is spread through contact with polio-contaminated feces. It most commonly infects your body through your mouth and it then lives in your intestines. People affected by polio may experience weak muscles, stiffness, headaches and paralysis. Polio can be fatal, but thanks to vaccines, the Western Hemisphere has been declared free of Polio since 1994.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.