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Polio - a brief and simple description

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Polio is a viral infection that attacks the central nervous system and interferes with the nerves that control
muscle movement. Although the virus can attack at any age it is young children who are at far greater
risk. For that reason the disease used to be known as infantile paralysis.

Until the late 1950's it was quite a common virus but a steady decline in cases has led to extinction in all
but under developed regions. In most cases the effects of the polio virus were confined to the throat and
intestines, producing symptoms similar to flu or sometimes a stomach upset. More severe cases experienced
things like pain and stiffness in the neck and back. Permanent paralysis was actually quite rare and was
only seen in something like one or two per cent of those contracting the disease. Still fewer cases were of
life-threatening severity and these occurred where the virus affected the muscles of the throat and
respiratory system. Patients so affected needed to spend a considerable time lying in a metal case, known
as an 'iron lung'. This was a predecessor of the modern respirator.

The eradication of polio in developed countries is largely due to the work of Jonas Edward Salk, physician
and microbiologist. In 1954 his research led to the development of a new vaccine that virtually wiped out
the paralytic polio virus in developed countries.