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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Polio can cripple victims twice
Child getting vaccine
A child receives polio vaccine in India
Up to 20 million polio sufferers around the world face new health problems decades after they first contracted the disease, research shows.

Polio can itself cause crippling injuries.

There are about 30,000 polio survivors in the UK, many of whom have completely recovered their mobility.

But four in 10 of these could end up wheelchair bound or using ventilators for the rest of their lives, because of a slow-acting syndrome.

Experts say too few doctors recognise the symptoms of post polio syndrome (PPS) and many sufferers say they are unhappy with the level of care they have received.

The report from the March of Dimes, set up by polio sufferer US President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1938, hopes to alert people to the extent of the problem.

It discovered that many people suffer PPS-related problems 15 to 40 years after they first contracted polio.


A large number of our members have been disappointed with the care they've received

Andrew Kemp, of the British Polio Fellowship
The main symptoms of PPS are progressive muscle weaknesses that gradually worsen, together with severe muscle and joint fatigue and pain.

There is no cure for PPS, although doctors advise sufferers to curtail their activities and take rest periods during the day.

The reasons for PPS are unknown, but the most widely accepted hypothesis is that it results from a degeneration of motor nerves that sprouted new connections years earlier to make up for other nerves killed by polio.

Because the surviving motor nerves have been supplying many more muscle fibres it is thought they might wear out prematurely.

Polio victim
Polio is still affecting people in developing countries

Andrew Kemp, of the British Polio Fellowship, said GPs in particular need to start to recognise PPS.

"Gradually, the numbers presenting with PPS symptoms have increased year by year.

"I know it is unfair to generalise, but a large number of our members have been disappointed with the care they've received.

"In 1998, when we surveyed our members, 98% of respondents thought they had new physical problems caused by their polio, but 66% of general practitioners did not attribute such problems to PPS."

Unrecognised

Dr Christopher Howson, director of global programmes for the March of Dimes, agreed that PPS is globally unrecognised.

Polio vaccine
The oral polio vaccine has saved millions from the disease

"In developing countries, where polio outbreaks still occur or have ended much more recently, medical systems will be facing PPS for decades into the future and have little knowledge or understanding of it.

"Even in advanced countries, and this includes the United States, many doctors are not trained to recognise PPS or are reluctant to treat it as a new condition."

But Dr Joe Neary, of the Royal College of GPs (RCGPs) said GPs did not have the specialist knowledge to deal with PPS.

"GPs do not have the specialist knowledge to be able to give a definitive diagnosis on Post-Polio Syndrome.

"Any patient presenting with new neurological symptoms, who has previously been diagnosed with a neurological abnormality such as polio, should be referred to a specialist."

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See also:

04 Jun 01 | Health
The lifelong fight against polio
03 Apr 01 | Health
Polio eradication draws closer
29 Oct 00 | Health
Polio milestone passed
20 Oct 00 | Health
Polio vaccine in BSE scare
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