Polio By Any Other Name: West Nile Virus, Post-Polio Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a Double Standard of Disbelief

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By Dr. Richard L. Bruno

On September 20, 2002, "The Washington Post" reported that the West Nile virus is for the first time affecting younger and healthier and has caused at least six cases of "polio-like paralysis," in arms, legs and even breathing muscles, causing several individuals to be placed on respirators.

Polio, paralysis and respirators. These words strike fear in the nearly 2 million North Americans alive today who had polio fifty years ago and in those who lived through the polio epidemics that terrorized the world. It is also frightening that the symptoms and damage done to the brain and spinal cord due to the West Nile virus and polioviruses — different viruses transmitted in different ways — are so similar: Nearly 1% percent of those infected with WNV have paralysis, almost the same percentage as in as those infected with polioviruses; up to 15 percent of those severely affected by West Nile virus die, where about 15 percent of all polio patients died due to severe brain stem encephalitis called "bulbar polio."

On August 13, 2002, the "New York Times" reported that New Yorkers admitted to hospital with West Nile encephalitis in 1999 have lasting symptoms: two-thirds have chronic fatigue, half report difficulty with walking and memory, 44% have muscle weakness, and more than one-third are depressed.

These percentages are lower than those in polio survivors reporting Post-Polio Sequelae, the unexpected and often disabling symptoms — overwhelming fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle and joint pain, sleep disorders, heightened sensitivity to anesthesia, cold and pain, and difficulty swallowing and breathing — that occur in paralytic and "non-paralytic" polio survivors about 35 years after the poliovirus attack.

Assistant NYC health commissioner Marcelle Layton said, "Many people don't realize that [West Nile] is not an infection that you always get over." Despite the similarities between West Nile and polio, why are those who had WNV believed when they complain of lasting fatigue and muscle weakness — even depression — while doctors still don't "believe" PPS exists. Scores of autopsies performed in the 1940s showed that the encephalitis caused by the poliovirus was far more common and severe than is West Nile encephalitis.

If West Nile encephalitis can cause chronic fatigue, memory loss, and depression, why do doctors think it impossible that polioencephalitis can produce the debilitating fatigue that is the most common PPS symptom, or that other known encephalitis-causing agents — such as the Coxsackie viruses — can be responsible for fatigue and memory loss in those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

And what will happen to the reported twenty percent of West Nile patients who have "only a mild case of the flu" and are never diagnosed with WNV? Twenty-two percent of those infected with poliovirus 50 years ago only had flu-like symptoms, often don't know that they had polio or were diagnosed with "non-paralytic" polio, but are reporting PPS symptoms today. Thirty years from now will undiagnosed West Nile patients who report fatigue and weakness find themselves in the same situation as polio survivors and CFS patients, disbelieved and told that they are malingering or that symptoms are "all in their heads?"

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of America's worst polio epidemic when nearly 60,000 were stricken. So far in 2002 six people have been paralyzed by WNV. Let this polio anniversary and West Nile patients' symptoms remind doctors that many different viruses can permanently damage the brain and spinal cord and cause lasting symptoms, including fatigue, memory loss, and muscle weakness. Let us hope that acceptance of PPS and CFS as post-encephalitic syndromes will prevent West Nile patients from being disbelieved and dismissed when they develop "Post West Nile Syndrome" thirty-five years from now.

About the author: Dr. Richard Bruno is Chairperson of the International Post-Polio Task Force and Director of The Post-Polio Institute and International Centre for Post-Polio Education and Research at Englewood (NJ) Hospital and Medical Center. His book, THE POLIO PARADOX: UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF POLIO TO UNDERSTAND TREAT "POST-POLIO SYNDROME" AND CHRONIC FATIGUE, is published by Warner Books.

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4 thoughts on “Polio By Any Other Name: West Nile Virus, Post-Polio Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a Double Standard of Disbelief”

  1. freedominMedcn says:

    Everything in this article is horrible, after all of these years and years and millions in research, you’d think we’d have gotten somewhere. I was researching Post-Polio Syndrome when I came across this article. In my research, I found something that, sadly, is not available and doesn’t seem researched. Does anyone know if it has? Has Selegiline or Liquid Deprenyl been researched to help those with PPS?

    I found something that gave me hope, and this is not spam or advertising because you can’t advertise something you can’t buy. Someone with PPS said they were prescribed Deprenyl for their syndrome and even claims to have pioneered the use of Liquid Deprenyl for Post-Polio Syndrome!! Does anyone know any further info regarding this matter? IS Liquid Deprenyl or Selegiline noted to be effective against PPS?? If medical doctors have prescribed it, wouldn’t it be? And if it is, why doesn’t anyone say it is??

    The vague, short “article” written by someone diagnosed with PPS I found doesn’t really say much, but can someone review it and tell me Deprenyl’s effects on Post-Polio Syndrome? http://liquiddeprenyl.com/customerreports/ldcorders/pg1/letter0354.htm.

    If a medical doctor prescribed Deprenyl for PPS, someone here must know how it works with it.

    1. Follydust says:

      http://www.plee.com/pps/ppspamph.htm if the link doesn’t work it is Oregon PPS Dr Warren Anderson recommending

      Amantadine 100mg, Deprenyl 5mg, Mestinon 60mg.

      Nice to know someone else is going with this line.


  2. Sherry3057 says:

    I ran across this website and noticed someone had written in 2008 questioning the use of Selegiline in PPS. I HAV RECENTLY BEGUN TAKING Selegiline for PPS fatigue. I have found it helps with overall fatigue, allowing me to continue use to do things most of the day when before I could make it only half the day before having to take a nap. It has not given me more strength or less muscle fatigue, but has helped with endurance. It’s antidepressant abilities help with having a desire to continue, even with chronic pain. I think it is definitely something other people with PPS fatigue should explore.

  3. susangc says:


    Check out this link to find out how two physicians in Mississippi first reported the link between polio and WNV.

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