Did We Really Eraticate Polio?
I read a post by @trumpman spotlighting a recent outbreak of the feared polio virus in Venezuela. I made a comment that polio hadn't really disappeared but had simply been renamed and @trumpman called for sources, sending me on a walk through my past reading to find and clarify my off-handed reference.
Like the moon landing, the conquering of polio in the United States is held up as one of the great scientific advancements of the modern age. It was feared, it was deadly, we invented a way to stop it, we were overwhelmingly successful, triumphant end of story.
I was pretty sad to find out the story isn't quite true.
It'd be nice to think my children are in no danger from this legendary virus. But as with many things, the simple explanation that the Polio vaccine conquered the disease leaves out a few crucial details.
First of all, Paralytic Poliomyelitis is a complication of Poliovirus, one of a class of virus called "Enteroviruses". History of Polio
"Enteroviruses are a genus of positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses associated with several human and mammalian diseases. Enteroviruses are named by their transmission-route through the intestine (enteric meaning intestinal)."
"Enteroviruses affect millions of people worldwide each year and are often found in the respiratory secretions (e.g., saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus) and stool of an infected person. Historically, poliomyelitis was the most significant disease caused by an enterovirus, poliovirus. There are 64 non-polio enteroviruses that can cause disease in humans: 23 Coxsackie A viruses, 6 Coxsackie B viruses, 28 echoviruses, and 5 other enteroviruses. Poliovirus, as well as coxsackie and echovirus, is spread through the fecal-oral route. Infection can result in a wide variety of symptoms ranging from mild respiratory illness (common cold), hand, foot and mouth disease, acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, aseptic meningitis, myocarditis, severe neonatal sepsis-like disease, and acute flaccid paralysis."
Wikipedia Definition of Enterovirus
There are so many different strains of this type of virus you've probably even had one before. You might've called it "a cold", "a stomach bug" or "24-hour flu".
So What Happened In The 50s?
The thing that happened in the 50s was a complication currently referred to as "Acute Flaccid Paralysis Syndrome". You can see it down at the end of the Wikipedia article describing enterovirus issues still present today.
AFPS is a symptom, not a disease. However, that particular symptom was the feared outcome of contracting Poliovirus (most people - 95% - just had a "24 hour bug" when they got polio). At the time, the complication was called "Poliomyelitis", "myelitis" referring to the spinal cord. That exact strain of Enterovirus had a habit of causing 1 - 5% of it's sufferers paralyzation by attacking the spinal cord.
Enter the Iron Lung, limbs that stop functioning, and the whole terrible range of effects etched in our memories from friends and family members still dealing with their childhood Polio bouts.
This onset of AFPS is still occurring in conjunction with Enteroviruses, most recently in 2014 when there was an outbreak of Enterovirus D68 which caused a number of children to suffer polio-like symptoms, including death. Story
Another name for this strain of Enterovirus with potential paralyzation is Novel Enterovirus C105.
A Rose By Any Other Name...
Here is a link to the CDC article about Novel Enterovirus C105, ince that's going to be the most skeptical to my point of view: Acute Flaccid Paralysis Associated with Novel Enterovirus
Quote from the CDC abstract:
"An outbreak of acute flaccid paralysis among children in the United States during summer 2014 was tentatively associated with enterovirus D68 infection. This syndrome in a child in fall 2014 was associated with enterovirus C105 infection. The presence of this virus strain in North America may pose a diagnostic challenge."
What this article is really saying - from what I can tell - is that the difference between this strain of Enterovirus and the one that terrified the Western world in the 50s is going to be a "diagnostic challenge".
To me, this is double speak. It's like saying the influenza we get today is not the same as the influenza which killed so many people in the early 1900s, so we've eradicated influenza and don't need to be worried about it anymore.
Technically, it's true: the Great Flu has mutated and isn't the same anymore. But we still have influenza and it's still nasty. It still kills.
Enteroviruses can still cause paralyzation by attacking the spinal cord. Therefore, Polio still exists and there is no vaccine for this strain. Not surprising, since gut viruses like enterovirus are notoriously prone to mutation and are very difficult to even try to vaccinate against.
"Polio was eradicated by 1979."
We cling to that belief. We highlight it as the first big vaccine success story, the reason so many of us parents are willing to go along with all the other vaccinations coming along since. It's the line you see over and over again when referring to this ugly little virus. But it's not true.
Pretending like it is just puts all of us at risk. We aren't experimenting with how to cure it. We aren't looking at little colds or stomach bugs like they could be potential killers. We aren't taking this things seriously because we don't know what it is.
Maybe it's time to reopen the closed Polio case files and get back to work.
Curated for #informationwar (by @wakeupnd)
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