Franklin D. Roosevelt used a wheelchair after contracting Polio in 1921
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Poliomyelitis ("polio"), or infantile paralysis, is a viral paralytic disease. The causative agent, a virus called poliovirus (PV), enters the body orally, infecting the intestinal wall. It may proceed to the blood stream and into the central nervous system causing muscle weakness and often paralysis. more...

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Eradication efforts led by the World Health Organization have reduced the number of annual diagnosed cases from the hundreds of thousands to around a thousand.


Polio (infantile paralysis) is a communicable disease which is categorized as a disease of civilization. Polio spreads through human-to-human contact, usually entering the body through the mouth due to fecally contaminated water or food. The poliovirus is a small RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus that has three different strains and is extremely infectious. The virus invades the nervous system, and the onset of paralysis can occur in a matter of hours. While polio can strike a person at any age, over fifty percent of the cases occurred to children between the ages of three and five. The incubation period of polio, from the time of first exposure to first symptoms, ranges from three to thirty five days.

Polio can spread widely before physicians detect the first signs of a polio outbreak. Surprisingly, most people infected with the poliovirus have no symptoms or outward signs of the illness and are thus never aware they have been infected. After the person is exposed to the poliovirus, the virus is expelled through faeces for several weeks and it is during this time that a polio outbreak can occur in a community. The three strains of poliovirus result in non-paralytic polio, paralytic polio, and bulbar polio. In all forms of polio, the early symptoms of infection are fatigue, fever, vomiting, headache and pain in the neck and extremities.

Types of polio

Non-paralytic polio

Non-paralytic polio will result in fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, and irritability. Some muscle spasms in the neck and back, with muscles generally tender to the touch.

Spinal paralytic polio

This strain of the poliovirus attacks the spinal column where it destroys the anterior horn cells which control movement of the trunk and limb muscles. Although this strain of the poliovirus can lead to permanent paralysis, less than one in two hundred with symptoms will result in paralysis. The most common paralysis will affect the legs. Once the poliovirus invades the intestines, it is absorbed by the capillaries in the walls of the intestine and is then carried by the bloodstream throughout the body. The poliovirus attacks the spinal column and the motor neurons—which control physical movement. It is during this period of infection that flu-like symptoms occur; however, for people who have no immunity or have not been vaccinated, the virus usually goes on to infect the entire spinal column and the brain stem. This infection affects the central nervous system (CNS)—spreading along nerve fibers. As the virus continues to multiply in the CNS, the virus destroys motor neurons. Motor neurons do not regenerate and any affected muscles will no longer respond to CNS commands. The most common paralysis occurs to the muscles of the legs. The result is that the limb becomes floppy and lifeless—a condition known as acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). An extreme infection of the CNS can cause extensive paralysis of the trunk and muscles of the thorax and abdomen (quadriplegia).


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Progress toward poliomyelitis eradication—India, 2003
From Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 3/26/04

Since the World Health Assembly resolved in May 1988 to eradicate poliomyelitis, the estimated global incidence of polio has decreased >99%, and three World Health Organization (WHO) regions (Americas, Western Pacific, and European) have been certified as polio-free (1). Since 1994, when the countries of the WHO South-East Asia Region (SEAR) * began accelerating polio-eradication activities, substantial progress toward that goal has been made (2-4). By 2001, poliovirus circulation in India had been limited primarily to the two northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with 268 cases reported nationwide. However, a major resurgence of polio occurred during 2002, with 1,600 cases detected nationwide, of which 1,363 (85%) were in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (5). This report summarizes the status of polio eradication activities in India during 2003 and describes the actions being taken to reduce poliovirus transmission.

Acute Flaccid Paralysis Surveillance

In 2003, a network of 248 trained surveillance medical officers (SMOs) assisted local health authorities at the district or subdistrict level with acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance. Since 2000, India has exceeded the WHO-established AFP surveillance quality targets (i.e., nonpolio AFP rate of [greater than or equal to] 1 per 100,000 population aged <15 years and adequate stool specimens ([dagger]) collected from [greater than or equal to] 80% of persons with AFP) (Table) However, during 2003, the nonpolio AFP rate was <1 pm 100,000 in seven small states (Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura) with approximately 1% of India's total population and inadequate (70%-80%) stool specimen collection was reported in 11 states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Damon and Diu, Delhi, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Sikkim, Uttaranchal, and Uttar Pradesh) with approximately 35% of India's total population.

Wild Poliovirus Incidence

During 2003, a total of 225 wild poliovirus (WPV) cases were reported ([section]) from India, a substantial decrease from the 1,600 cases reported in 2002 (Table). Of these 225 cases, 203 (90%) were WPV type 1 (P1), and 22 (10%) were WPV type 3 (P3). During 2003, incidence decreased substantially in the three states that had the highest number of cases in 2002: from 1,242 to 88 in Uttar Pradesh, from 121 to 18 in Bihar and from 49 to 28 in West Bengal. However, new foci of disease were reported in the southern Indian states of Karnataka (36), Andhra Pradesh (21), and Tamil Nadu (two), each of which had reported no polio cases for [greater than or equal to] 2 years. Cases were reported from 88 (15%) of 587 districts nationwide, compared with 159 districts (27%) in 2002 (Figure 1). P3 circulation occurred primarily in Uttar Pradesh (16 [73%] cases). Of the 88 cases in Uttar Pradesh that were confirmed virologically, 60 (68%) occurred in minority populations, which constitute approximately 17% of the state's total population.

During 2002-2003, the number of circulating genetic lineages of WPV remained constant for P1 (n = three) and P3 (n = four). All lineages circulating in India in 2003 were derived from strains that circulated in Uttar Pradesh during 2000-2001.

Vaccination Coverage

During 2002, approximately 68% of infants aged <1 year received [greater than or equal to] 3 doses of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) through routine vaccination. Substantial variations by state were found in routine coverage with 3 doses of OPV (OPV3), ranging from 21% in Bihar to 99% in Madhya Pradesh; OPV3 coverage through routine vaccination in Uttar Pradesh was estimated to be 41% (6).

Since 1995, biannual national immunization days (NIDs) ([paragraph]) that use fixed-site vaccination posts to administer OPV have been conducted to supplement routine vaccination and interrupt transmission of WPV. During 1999, supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) were intensified with the addition of house-to-house vaccination after an initial day of fixed-site activities. During 1999-2002, the number of large-scale NIDs and subnational immunization days (SNIDs) ** conducted in India decreased, from six during October 1999-March 2000 to four during 2000-2001 and three during 2001-2002 (Figure 2). During 2002-2003, two NIDs and four large SNIDs (the latter targeting 60-70 million children during each round) were conducted. In addition, monitoring of SIA quality was enhanced by the introduction of new vaccinator data-collection forms and standardized independent observer checklists. Data were analyzed to identify areas of programmatic weakness and to focus attention on specific districts and blocks with deficiencies in SIA quality.

In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, vaccination coverage data for AFP cases that were not caused by polioviruses indicate that OPV coverage improved substantially during 2002-2003. The proportion of children aged 6-59 months with nonpolio AFP who had [less than or equal to] 3 OPV doses (routine or supplemental) decreased from 20% to 6% in western Uttar Pradesh and from 17% to 7% in Bihar. However, during the same period, the proportion of such children increased to >23% in eastern Karnataka and to 10% in Andhra Pradesh.

Reported by: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India; National Polio Surveillance Project, World Health Organization, India; Dept of Immunization and Vaccine Development, World Health Organization, Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi, India. Dept of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. Div of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases; Global Immunization Div, National Immunization Program, CDC.

Editorial Note: India, the only remaining country in SEAR with ongoing indigenous WPV transmission, made major progress toward elimination of WPV in 2003. The 225 cases reported in 2003 represent the lowest annual number of polio cases in India's history, and the two states (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) that have accounted for the majority of polio cases in India reported the lowest number of cases ever. The increased number and quality of SIAs and expanded social mobilization activities improved the immunity stares of the population in every state in which these actions were taken, leading to a decline in disease rates.

Although several cases were reported early in 2003 in Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, and Rajasthan, no cases were reported from these states during July-December, suggesting cessation of WPV transmission in these areas. The outbreak of disease in the south in 2003 was attributable to an increasing proportion of children with [less than or equal to] 3 doses of OPV, which allowed spread of WPV once introduced. With intensified SIAs, these states should become polio-free again.

All cases of paralytic polio reported in India during 2003 were caused by lineages traceable to WPVs circulating in western Uttar Pradesh, which remains the source of polio that has been introduced to areas of the country that had been polio-free for several months or years. Although cases were reported during 2003 from 16 (46%) of India's 35 states, Uttar Pradesh alone had sustained transmission throughout the year. The elimination of these reservoirs of poliovirus is critical to the success of polio eradication in India.

In areas where SIA numbers and quality were enhanced in 2003, OPV coverage increased. OPV coverage also increased among minority populations, reflecting efforts made to address operational and social mobilization gaps. However, in several states in the south where additional SIAs were not conducted, vulnerability to infection with WPV increased. During July-December 2003, large mop-up vaccination campaigns were conducted; the impact of these SIAs will be evaluated by using data on nonpolio AFP cases collected during the next 3 months.

During January-May 2004, three NIDs and one SNID are planned. These SIAs will be followed by intensive mop-up activities for any cases identified after April, with two additional NIDs planned for the fall. Each NID will target approximately 165 million children, and each SNID will target approximately 100 million children. Statewide AFP surveillance reviews initiated systematically in 2003 will continue, and the results will be used to fill any remaining gaps in surveillance, ensuring detection of any WPV transmission so that mop-up vaccination can be initiated rapidly. The government of India, WHO, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, CDC, and other partners are providing increased support for this effort through additional personnel and funding.

Because of its population size, its geographic location, and the ongoing threat of importation of WPV into polio-flee countries, eliminating polio from India is the greatest challenge facing the global polio-eradication effort. With fewer cases reported in 2003 than ever before during the traditional high season (June-December), India is close to eliminating WPV transmission nationally. For this effort to succeed in 2004, sustained and effective commitment of national and state governments is required, along with continued support by India's major international partners.

* Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

([paragraph]) Two specimens collected [greater than or equal to] 24 hours apart, both within 14 days of paralysis onset and shipped properly to the laboratory.

([section]) Data as of February 28, 2004.

([paragraph]) Nationwide mass campaigns during a short period (days to weeks) in which 2 doses of OPV are administered to all children (usually aged < 5 years), regardless of previous vaccination history, with an interval of 4-6 weeks between doses.

** Mass campaigns same as NIDs but limited to parts of a country.


(1.) CDC. Progress toward global eradication of poliomyelitis, 2002. MMWR 2002;52:366-9.

(2.) CDC. Progress toward poliomyelitis eradication--India, 1998. MMWR 1998;47:778-81.

(3.) CDC. Progress toward poliomyelitis eradication--South-East Asia, January 2000-June 2001. MMWR 2001;50:738-42, 751.

(4.) CDC. Progress toward poliomyelitis eradication--India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, January 2001-June 2002. MMWR 2002;51:831-3.

(5.) CDC. Progress toward poliomyelitis eradication--India, 2002. MMWR 2003;52:172-5.

(6.) Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Cover age Evaluation Survey--2002: Intensified Purse Polio Immunization, Routine Immunization and Maternal Care-National Report. New Delhi, India: Government of India, 2002.

COPYRIGHT 2004 U.S. Government Printing Office
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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