Polio (poliomyelitis) is a severe illness caused by a virus called poliovirus. The majority of polio cases are asymptomatic or occur without noticeable symptoms. There are two classifications of symptomatic polio: paralytic and non-paralytic.
Poliovirus is highly contagious and can be spread through direct contact with an infected individual through feces, food, and the water supply. Once poliovirus enters a host, it colonizes in the intestinal and throat tissues.
Without swift medical intervention, the virus mobilizes in the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body. Thankfully, a vaccine to prevent polio is available. Polio can be detected through secretions in the throat, cerebrospinal fluid, and stool.
5 Signs and Symptoms of Polio
Because polio cannot be cured, treatment consists of preventing complications and managing symptoms. Polio has several classic symptoms. Get to know them now.
1. Neck and Back Pain
Neck and back pain are common symptoms that occur in individuals with non-paralytic polio and paralytic polio. The poliovirus enters the body and expends into the mesenteric and cervical lymph nodes.
From there, it moves into the bloodstream and is enabled to colonize in extraneural regions to maintain a stronghold on its host. This process is thought to increase the probability the virus will attack the nervous system.
Pain and stiffness in the back and the neck happen as a result of the virus entering the affected individual’s blood, and the immune response summoned to mediate this viremia.
This mechanism causes membranes around the spinal cord to become inflamed and swollen. The neck and back pain is said to be identical to that in other forms of infection precipitated meningitis.
Abnormal behaviors of autonomic function due to polio affecting the individual’s nervous system can compound the inflammation around the spinal cord that causes neck and back pain.
2. Muscle Aches and Weakness
Muscle aches and weakness are symptoms of polio that occur once the virus has launched its attack on an individual’s nervous system. Symptoms produced by this process can last anywhere from four days to five weeks.
The symptom of muscle weakness refers to the inability of an individual to produce a muscle movement while exerting their maximum effort to do so. Muscle weakness can be unique in those affected by polio because it is often not accompanied by loss of sensation.
Muscle aches, back pain, and neck stiffness typically occur before the patient’s muscle weakness sets in. Muscle weakness reaches its peak within forty-eight hours of its onset, but it can last for over a week.
Muscle weakness caused by polio manifests with greater severity in the patient’s lower limbs than in their upper limbs. Muscle weakness is known to occur asymmetrically, with varying degrees of weakness in different regions of the body.
3. Loss of Reflexes
Following the muscle weakness, an affected individual who has not been treated begins to experience a loss of reflexes. A reflex is a response by the body that occurs as a reaction to stimulus such as immediately removing the hand when it touches an extremely hot object.
Sneezing, coughing, and blinking of the eyes are examples of other automatic reflexes. The reflex physicians usually check in an individual’s legs is called the patellar reflex. When the patellar tendon is tapped, it stretches the muscle connected to the tendon.
Nerve impulses are transmitted to the spinal cord, indicating this muscle has stretched. Almost immediately, a message is transmitted from the spinal cord back to the muscle.
This impulse provokes a quick muscle contraction that causes the lower leg to kick in an outward direction.
The patellar reflex is important to an individual’s balance, and physicians use it to evaluate nervous system function. Polio patients initially experience agile reflexes and spasms before they rapidly lose reflex function.
4. Floppy Limbs
An individual with polio can experience floppy limbs when their illness advances to a stage called paralytic poliomyelitis. Flaccid paralysis only occurs in less than one of every one hundred polio infections.
Floppy limbs and loss of reflexes are the results of the virus infiltrating and destroying specific types of cells in the nervous system responsible for the activation of muscles. This process occurs following the general muscle weakness caused by damage to these same nerve cells.
The muscles that rely on these specific nerve cells become completely non-functional, rather than reduced in function. Floppy limbs occur as a result of this malfunction.
Floppy limbs can be described as acute flaccid paralysis. The limb or limbs become lifeless and do not respond to stimuli in the form of movements and reflexes.
Before the affected individual begins to recover, the floppy limbs remain at the same level of severity for anywhere between several days to several weeks. While the majority of patients regain their motor function, some cases result in permanent paralysis.
5. Body Stiffness
Body stiffness, where an individual has to exert extra strength and effort to move body parts accompanied by tightness, pain, and decreased range of motion, can occur in any of the early and post-polio stages.
Some patients describe body stiffness is an inability to perform a normal stretching without painful sensations. Body stiffness is a common characteristic of systemic inflammatory diseases or conditions like arthritis, spondylitis, and spinal stenosis.
Individuals affected by polio develop widespread inflammation in numerous body tissues like the muscles in the neck, back, and limbs. Inflammation is characterized by blood vessel dilation and an influx of immune components to the site where the virus has caused damage.
This is typically the nerves near the muscles responsible for their activation. The inflammatory response causes surrounding tissues to swell and compresses nearby structures. This mechanism results in body stiffness.