Polio Facts (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What is polio?

Polio is in infectious disease that is caused by viruses that may result in a wide range of symptoms in patients. Other terms for polio include poliomyelitis and infantile paralysis. Symptoms can range from a non-paralytic flu-like infection to total paralysis that can occur within a few hours.

What is the history of polio?

The history of polio dates back about 6,000 years. Egyptian mummies have been found with withered and malformed limbs that likely occurred because of polio infection. In 1789, the first description of polio was recorded and in 1834 the first documented epidemic occurred on the island of St. Helena. In 1855, Dr. Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne showed polio involved the anterior horn cells of the spinal cord. The Iron lung was developed in the late 1920s to help people with polio breathe. One of the most famous people who had polio was U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). The polio virus was first cultivated in tissue culture (1949), and in 1951, the three types of poliovirus were isolated and identified. During 1954, the first large-scale trial of the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk (dead virus vaccine) was administered by injection, and in 1958, Dr. Albert Sabin's vaccine (live attenuated virus) was administered orally. In 2000, the U.S. switched to using inactivated polio vaccine by injection; other countries still may use the oral polio vaccine. Because polio viruses survive only in humans and are transmitted only by human contact, the World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to eradicate polio worldwide. This attempt is been relatively successful with a 99% decrease in polio infections worldwide. However, some countries in Africa and the Middle East still have new infections caused by polio because of areas that cannot be reached by vaccine workers. Unfortunately, when there is war in these regions, polio makes a comeback because vaccine efforts are interrupted. The WHO still believes that polio may be eradicated like smallpox in the near future.

Picture of iron lung used to move air in and out of lungs by pressure changes
Picture of iron lung used to move air in and out of lungs by pressure changes; SOURCE: CDC/GHO/Mary Hilpertshauser
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/4/2014


Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!