Like the virus that causes chicken pox, then retreats for decades only to re-emerge as shingles, the polio virus that infected countless thousands in the developed world until the mid-1960s has been causing muscle weakness, pains and fatigue in often unsuspecting and undiagnosed survivors as they reach their 50’s & beyond.
Reactivating, or Just Lingering Damage?
Some researchers believe the polio virus is reactivating, while others suspect the symptoms may be caused by “abnormal regrowth of nerves damaged by the original infection.” Apparently nobody knows for sure. But ‘post polio’ symptoms do appear to affect or threaten at least 80% of survivors, according to an article by Lois Rogers featured August 9 in the UK’s Daily Mail – “How polio has returned to haunt its victims in old age.”
Millions of Possible Sufferers
Estimates put the number of ‘known’ polio survivors across Europe at 700,000, with 120,000 in the UK, Rogers reports, while the NIH puts the US survivor population at 440,000. But most physicians today have never seen polio, which is carried via saliva, mucus or feces and at its worst attacks the brain & central nervous system. So most physicians are ill-prepared to note symptoms indicative of post polio syndrome; though sophisticated tests such as those suggested by the Mayo Clinic can provide a diagnosis.(1, 2)
Further, even a check of a patient's health history may not clue physicians in to the earlier polio, because at the time of the great 20th Century epidemics an estimated 95% of cases involved flu-like symptoms that could be so minor the person may not even be aware they were ever infected. Of the remaining 5%, the virus (an 'enterovirus' that infects the throat and intestinal tract first) moves into the lining of the brain & spinal cord, causing encephalitis (inflammation), and in 1% to 2% invades the motor neurons to cause muscle paralysis, weakness, and pain.(1)
Projects and Trials
Read the Daily Mail article to learn more about people affected by post polio syndrome, and about Prof. Carolyn Young, a neurologist at The Walton Centre in Liverpool, “who is leading the first research project on the syndrome, in more than 200 people aged 50 and over.”(3)
A review of ClinicalTrials.gov brings up a few other projects, including one just initiated at the University of Michigan involving supplementation with the potent antioxidant L-glutathione.(4)
Smoldering Risk of New Epidemics?
Sadly also, the risk of polio lives on, since fears about vaccination in certain parts of the world allow polio to persist and potentially allow transmission of emerging strains via international travel.
1. Information on Post Polio Syndrome at the British Polio Fellowship site - http://www.britishpolio.org.uk/PolioSyndrome/AboutPostpolio.aspx For example, the site notes, PPS usually begins very slowly, and can seem to be triggered by events like falls, surgery or immobility.
2. A description at MayoClinic.com of tests that can be done to rule out other conditions and diagnose post polio syndrome. These include nerve conduction studies, imaging, blood tests, and muscle biopsy.
3. Information on Dr. Young’s post polio research - including study descriptions, an invitation to participate, a press release (“Groundbreaking research gives UK’s forgotten polio community new hope”), and answers to frequently asked questions about the study.
4. Information about a new US trial of glutathione supplementation for symptoms of post polio syndrome, just launched in July 2011 at the University of Michigan: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01402570. Glutathione (aka L-Glutathione) is a naturally occurring antioxidant and amino acid known to support cell health and integrity. Read about the trial and its inclusion/exclusion criteria at http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01402570?term=Post-Polio+Syndrome&rank=5