Polio was last seen in Australia in the 1970s but many people who contracted polio then, have later in life developed post-polio syndrome (PPS). In fact, it often strikes decades after the polio illness.
PPS is a viral infection affecting the nervous system of up to 50% of survivors of polio. The exact cause of PPS is unknown but it is often explained in terms of degenerating neurons (nerve cells).
There is not a specific test for PPS but common symptoms may include:
- new muscle weakness
- muscle and joint pain
Although PPS is rarely life threatening, any osteoporosis and muscle weakness can lead to falls causing further complications.
PPS is often treated by encouraging paced physical activity, intended to slow the deteriorating muscles. Physios can prescribe exercises which help to build stamina but don’t over-tax muscles leading to exhaustion. Mobility aids may also be useful for conserving energy. A number of medications have been trialled with little clear benefit, although, some anti-inflammatory medications may help to relieve symptoms. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes reports future treatments focusing on nerve regrowth may prove beneficial.
Currently there is no medical intervention preventing PPS, however, self-management techniques such as learning about PPS, a balanced diet, weight management, paced physical activity and participation in support groups are shown to increase quality of life . For a list of PPS support groups contact Polio Australia, access the website here or Spinal Injuries Association, free call: 1800 810 513, you can access their website here.
Australia has eradicated polio but the risk remains as this highly infectious disease is still endemic to Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Ensuring the current polio vaccine coverage remains the best defence for all.