Infantile paralysis is an alternate name for the condition better known as polio or poliomyelitis. This is an extremely serious illness that is all but eradicated in most parts of the world, due to steady vaccination efforts. There are a few places where polio still exists in wild form, but with vaccination, most people today won’t ever develop infant paralysis. Concern does exist that downward trends in vaccination rates might bring this disease back, and the consequences of a return of this illness could be challenging, since some children and adults who develop this condition suffer lifelong effects from getting it.
There are several classifications of polio, depending upon how the disease develops. Many people get only nonparalytic forms. For up to ten days after exposure they’ll be sick with symptoms such as fever, muscles aches and pain, severe headache, meningitis, vomiting, sore throat, and spasms of the muscles. Not all symptoms are present in all cases, and some people can get sick and be over symptoms so quickly they never know they had infantile paralysis.
Conversely, the disease may worsen and develop what is called paralytic polio. This may include the symptoms previously listed, and more serious ones can begin to develop. Muscle spasms may become extremely severe, and people may experience difficult with limb control, usually on one side of the body more than the other. When tested by a doctor, normal reflexes are typically absent.
When people develop infantile paralysis that becomes paralytic polio, the consequences can be extremely serious. The disease is potentially disabling for life and can cause changes in the way the body develops, deformation of the body, and lasting inability to fully use some parts of the body. A child who has infantile paralysis of this type can face years of surgeries, physical therapies and other interventions without recovering full function. While many people clearly have suffered from polio and still go on to live full and rich lives like the great violinist Itzhak Perlman, many others are not as lucky. Additionally, while some survive polio to face a lifetime of physical hardship, others simply do not survive it.
The best defense against infantile paralysis is vaccination. Children receive four shots of inactive poliovirus in childhood. Adults might require a booster if they plan to visit an area where the virus can still be contracted live. Some doctors also recommend boosters with live infantile paralysis virus, as opposed to inactivated, if people will be somewhere where the disease is still wild. This protection means many countries have almost totally eradicated infantile paralysis thanks to the work of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, who developed two successful vaccines for the illness.