A Vicious Virus

And I thought poliomyelitis was a vicious virus.

I am biased in my response to the current pandemic. When I hear the word coronavirus through my reality grid, I hear coronaVIRUS! I have dealt with the consequences of contracting the poliomyelitis virus for almost 68 years. That virus attacked me in 1953. That year there were 9,000 cases of poliomyelitis in Canada, the country of my birth. There were 500 deaths associated with polio that year. Infantile Paralysis or The Crippler were other names given to poliomyelitis at that time. The virus can permanently damage the nerve cells that control the muscles. In less than 1% of cases, polio causes permanent paralysis of the arms, legs, or breathing muscles. I am in that 1% category. Between 5 and 10% of the people who develop paralytic polio will die from the virus. Happily, I did not end up in that category! According to one estimate, 25% to 50% of the current 300,000 polio survivors in the United States may develop Late Effects of Polio (LEoP), also known as Post Polio Syndrome (PP).

During the 100 years between 1910, (when the first recorded cases of poliomyelitis occurred in Canada and the US), and 2010, there have been 607,609 cases of polio in the US. This year there have been 1,619,985 known cases of coronavirus as of May 21st. Between 1910 and 2010, there were 59,522 deaths associated with poliomyelitis. As of May 21, 2020, there have been 96,280 deaths related to Covid-19. Fortunately, it appears that there is a high survival rate for those who have contracted Covid-19. (The caveat is that current statistics give us an idea of general trends. Things are still in a state of flux concerning this pandemic. More accurate statistics will start to appear after WHO declares an end to the pandemic)

It is important to remember that survivors of Covid-19 have experienced physical/mental/emotional trauma, some more severe than others. Those of us in the healing professions should be sensitive to that. As with poliomyelitis, I am also concerned about the potential long-term residual effects in the bodies of Covid-19 survivors. 

During my research, I was interested to note some of the parallels between poliomyelitis outbreaks and the coronavirus pandemic.

In Canada, Provincial public health departments tried to quarantine the sick, closed schools, and restricted children from traveling or going to movie theaters. Over time, it became clear that these measures did not prevent polio’s spread. Poliomyelitis spreads differently than coronavirus.

The poliovirus spreads when food, water, or hands contaminated with infected feces enter the mouth of an uninfected person. Throat or nasal secretions of an infected person that enter the mouth of an uninfected person also spreads the poliovirus.

At one time, most provinces in Canada provided a free “convalescent” serum when people became ill from polio. Blood donated by those who had survived a polio attack was the source of this serum. There was never proof of the serum’s effectiveness.

D222C926-A636-46A3-896C-3EEAE270D2BAToday the use of ventilators is often needed to treat Covid-19 patients. For those who had their respiratory muscles compromised by Bulbar Paralytic Poliomyelitis, survival depended on the availability of an iron lung. In 1930, Canada’s first iron lung came to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto from Boston. These large metal cylinders regulate the breathing of patients whose polio attacked their respiratory muscles. There was a rush to assemble more iron lungs to help keep people alive after a severe outbreak in 1937. The Ontario government paid to have 27 of these devices manufactured in six weeks.


A nasal spray designed to block the poliovirus from entering the body was used on 5,000 Toronto children in 1937. After two rounds of treatments, the spray was abandoned because it did not prevent polio and caused a number of the children to lose their sense of smell.

The first vaccine for poliomyelitis was not available to the public until 1955. That was 45 years after the first recorded cases in the US and Canada. The fact that a vaccine for coronavirus conceivably could be publicly available in a couple of years highlights the significant advances that we have enjoyed in medical science.






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