Doctors' Answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" - Polio

These comments are made for the purpose of discussion and should NOT be used as recommendations for or against therapies or other treatments. An individual patient is always advised to consult their own physician.

Post-Polio [posted 7/30/98]
Question: Do you know of any trials or research on the effects of human growth hormone on increasing muscle use in Post-polio or on delaying the disuse of muscles in any disease?

Answer: There was one small study done with equivocal effects. So far it is not used for this purpose. I am told that other studies are in progress. It is clear that a growth hormone deficiency will accelerate Post Polio Syndrome. I would check your levels, if low it might be beneficial to replace them, but if normal, I wouldn't try it unless things are truly critical in terms of function.

Polio [posted 7/30/98]
Question: What symptoms does polio have? What effects does it have? What preventions are used? What treatments are used?

Answer: Poliomyelitis has not been seen in humans in several years. The world health organization has virtually eliminated it as a disease entity. I have never seen a case of polio and cite the symptoms from what I have been taught, not personal experience. Symptoms include a low grade temperature, occasional meningitis symptoms, - this is followed by a relapsing fever and flaccid paralysis. The paralysis varies in limbs affected and severity. Tendon reflexes are absent or markedly decreased. Sensation is intact. ( In contrast to Guillain-Barre with mild sensory deficits.) Preventions are immunizations - there is no treatment except supportive care (breathing for the patient, etc.).

Polio in left leg
Question: I am 27 years old and I am suffering with polio in my left leg. Is there any treatment of my disease in the United States?

Answer: There is no treatment to reverse the problem. Physical therapy will help and a specialist in polio(available at any medical center) could counsel you concerning Post-Polio Syndrome and potential things to watch for.

Question: I am doing a research project for a high school anatomy/pysiology class. I was wonder if you could send me any information on the disease poliomyelitis (polio).

Answer: Poliovirus is an enterovirus. There are three different serotypes: 1, 2, and 3. Infections with this virus are usually fairly asymptomatic. However, when the virus involves the nervous system, neurologic consequences often ensue. Motor neurons appear to be especially vulnerable to damage by this virus. In this most severe form of the disease, starts with a minor fever and viral syndrome. About one week later, the symptoms re-occur with flaccid paralysis of affected limbs. With the successful treatment of this disease by innoculation and immunization, other diseases which are present with paralysis are actually more common, like Guillain-Barre. The major clinical difference with the onset of paralysis is the intact sensation seen in polio and usually absent in GB. There is no treatment with the disease - only supportive measures. About l970 patients were recognized with Post-polio Syndrome, which is a progressive weakness of patients afflicted with polio as children or young adults. This appears to be progressive neuron breakdown over time. Prevention of this viral disease is the only effective means of decreasing its spread. With the types of vaccines and immunizations available nearly world wide, eradication of polio has occurred. There have been no reported cases in the American continent for many years. Currently, the disease is thought to be limited to certain areas of Africa. Eradication attempts are still under way.

Question: I have had poliomylitis for the past 47 yrs and am wondering why, if we are able to join nerve cells, can't the spinal cord be corrected to enable movement of the lower limbs? Would it be because such an operation is too dangerous? Thanks for your time in sharing your professional opinion. Thanks.

Answer: Poliomyelitis is a virus that damages and destroys specific nerve cells in the spinal cord. Once these are damaged there is currently no method of cure or encouraging their return. Many patients proceed to "post-polio syndrome" which is a progression of the neurologic findings many years after the initial infection. This is a completely different problem than having ones spinal cord severed. There is active research on regeneration of spinal cord function after traumatic damage. This could produce progress in post-polio patients, but, is unlikely.

Recontracting Disease
Question: In the early 1950's I contracted polio and was placed in an isolation hospital in Milwaukee, Wis. At that time I was approx. 5 -6 years old (DOB=11/26/45). This was before the Saulk vaccine. I had paralysis of my legs only. During the next three to four years I was released and underwent physical therapy at home. Other than being slightly shorter (5'5'') than what is normal I have no other residual effects of the disease. It has lately been brought to my attention that people like myself are recontracting the disease. Could you please supply me with any information as what the possibility is of my again getting polio?

Answer: Post polio syndrome is not recontacting the disease. It is a progressive weakness of the affected muscles previously affected by polio. These muscles will get weaker and atrophy(get smaller). Occasionally, bulbar or respiratory muscles will be affected leading to difficulty swallowing or breathing(sometimes a cause of sleep apnea also). These symptoms seem to be caused by a further decline in surviving muscles with disintegration of axon terminals(how muscles are enervated). If you have no symptoms don't worry;but, there are post-polio specialists in most larger cities and you may want to see one for an examination. Unfortunately, we don't currently have any major treatment options.
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Last modified July 30, 1998