Poliomyelitis: historical facts, epidemiology, and current challenges in eradication

Neurohospitalist. 2014 Oct;4(4):223-9. doi: 10.1177/1941874414533352.


Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus belonging to the Picornaviridae family. It finds a mention even in ancient Egyptian paintings and carvings. The clinical features are varied ranging from mild cases of respiratory illness, gastroenteritis, and malaise to severe forms of paralysis. These have been categorized into inapparent infection without symptoms, mild illness (abortive poliomyelitis), aseptic meningitis (nonparalytic poliomyelitis), and paralytic poliomyelitis. This disease has been associated with crippling deformities affecting thousands of lives throughout the world. Only due to the perseverance and determination of great scientists in 1900s, the genomic structure of the virus and its pathogenesis could be elucidated. Contribution of Salk and Sabin in the form of vaccines-oral polio vaccine (OPV) and the inactivated polio vaccine-heralded a scientific revolution. In 1994, the World Health Organization (WHO) Region of The Americas was certified polio free followed by the WHO Western Pacific Region in 2000 and the WHO European Region in June 2002 of the 3 types of wild poliovirus (types 1, 2, and 3). In 2013, only 3 countries remained polio endemic-Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Global eradication of polio is imperative else the threat of an outbreak will hover forever. Today, all the governments of the world in collaboration with WHO stand unified in their fight against poliomyelitis and the task when achieved will pave the way for eliminating other infections in future.

Keywords: epidemiology; infectious disease medicine; poliomyelitis.