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Living with polio

Between the 1930’s and 1960’s approximately 70,000* Australians were paralysed by polio. Most people recovered with varying levels of disability, going on to lead active lives.

Today thousands of people now aged in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and older are experiencing what we call Post-Polio Syndrome or Late Effects Polio, which are a set of unexpected new symptoms occurring some 15 to 40 years after the initial infection.

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for post-polio syndrome, but symptoms may be controlled or improved if you:
– Avoid physical overexertion or stress
– Keep comfortably warm and avoid exposure to cold temperatures
– Modify daily activities to conserve energy e.g. sit rather than stand at a workbench
– Use calipers, braces, walking sticks and electric scooters
– Ensure all exercise is pain free and non-fatiguing

Polio Support Groups

The Polio Network is no longer directly supported by Independence Australia, however there are polio support groups spread across metro and regional Victoria. Groups are established and run by local members.

Their mode of operation will vary according to each group’s needs but they aim to:
– Offer mutual support to people who’ve had polio, their families and carers
– Provide an opportunity for people who’ve had polio to meet socially to exchange information and share ideas
– Identify and lobby local agencies and organisations on the needs and rights of people with disabilities
– Promote and support the goals and activities of Polio Network Victoria

Post-Polio Syndrome

Post-Polio Syndrome (also known as the Late Effects of Polio) is a condition affecting polio survivors many years after recovery from an initial acute attack of polio. Symptoms are not caused by re-infection from the polio virus or related to age, and not all people who’ve had polio will experience them.

Many scientists believe post-polio syndrome develops in the following way:
– Nerve cells controlling muscle movements are damaged by the initial polio infection
– Some of the nerve cells are recovered while others are ‘sprouted’ and take over the work of cells that have died
– ‘Sprouted’ nerve cells have to work a lot harder than a ‘normal’ nerve cell
– After many years of increased workload, ‘sprouts’ start to break down
– As a result new muscle weakness is experienced

There is currently no test available to confirm whether you have the late effects of polio. A diagnosis will be based on a person’s medical history.

A person with late effects will have:
– Had polio in the past, with or without paralysis
– New symptoms of pain and weakness
– No other clinical explanations for your symptoms

Polio Network Victoria is no longer auspiced by Independence Australia. 
Or, you can contact them directly via email at [email protected] or phone 0438 542 728.

* Jones, R (1991) Post polio syndrome: what can we do. The Medical Journal of Australia, 155