Polio Facts (cont.)

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How do physicians diagnose polio?

A physician may make a preliminary diagnosis of polio from the patient's history and physical examination. For example, if the patient has not been vaccinated and has had contact with individuals who have polio and has symptoms such as muscle stiffness and difficulty with limb movements, breading or swallowing, then a preliminary diagnosis is made.

A definitive diagnosis is done by cultivating poliovirus from the patient's mucus, stool, and/or cerebrospinal fluid. In addition, there are serological tests that detect antibodies directed against poliovirus.

What is the treatment for polio?

Once the virus that causes polio has infected a person, there is no treatment that will cure polio. Early diagnosis and supportive treatments such as bed rest, pain control, good nutrition, and physical therapy to prevent deformities from occurring over time can help reduce the long-term symptoms due to muscle loss. Some patients, unfortunately, may require extensive support and care; for example, some require breathing assistance and special diets if they have difficulty swallowing while other patients may require splints and/or leg braces to avoid extremity pain, muscle spasms, and limb deformities. Some improvement in the symptoms may occur over time, but this improvement is not easily predictable and varies from patient to patient. For example, patients who needed breathing assistance could be treated with the iron lung; over time, some could improve and no longer would require iron lung therapy.

What is the prognosis of polio?

The prognosis for patients with polio depends on the extent of damage caused by the poliovirus. Many patients may have few if any symptoms and will have an excellent prognosis. However, the prognosis decreases when patients begin to show symptoms of paralysis. As the symptoms of paralysis worsen (decreased ability to breathe and/or swallow), the patient's prognosis decreases. Many patients who developed more severe polio symptoms developed lifelong disabilities or death.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/8/2014