Recently when my wife was elected as a Trustee for the British Polio Fellowship I was interested to learn more about their work. Although I had witnessed the lasting effects of polio throughout our marriage, restricted mobility and muscle weakness, I had no other knowledge about the long-term problems that affects many of the polio victims who were infected in the 1950s.
It soon became clear that Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) affects lots of people, with an estimate of 120,000 sufferers in the UK. By no means all who experienced muscle paralysis have PPS, but many people who had a mild infection may now be witnessing some or all of the devastating symptoms.
PPS can arise 20–50 years after the initial disease and be manifest by a range of effects including breathing and swallowing problems, muscle loss and fatigue, new or increasing weakness frequently with muscle or joint pain, cold intolerance, sleep disturbance and general fatigue. These problems may develop slowly and may be mistaken for other conditions, making diagnosis difficult.
The prevalence of PPS is about the same as Parkinson’s disease yet the awareness among the general public and healthcare professionals is disappointingly low. A recent poll revealed only 7% of people in Britain are aware of the condition, yet we proper diagnosis and treatment can stabilise and reduce the progress of PPS and dramatically improve lives. If no treatment is given symptoms will deteriorate, affecting not only the lives of the individuals and their families, but can have important economic consequences. We urgently need to raise the profile of this syndrome and ensure that everyone with PPS is getting the treatment and support they require. The British Polio Fellowship is an excellent organisation to further this cause.
With Post-Polio Syndrome Day being held on 22 October and 24 October being the fourth annual World Polio Day there is no better time to increase the awareness of the shadow of polio that hangs over our now ageing population.
Dr. Graham F. Cope, freelance medical writer