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Post-polio syndrome: The sequel

Polio quietly preyed on thousands of young Canadians. The disease caused paralysis, deformed limbs and in the most severe cases, death by asphyxiation. In Canada, polio was so feared that as recently as the 1950s, it closed schools, emptied streets and banned children under 16 from entering churches and theatres. In 1955 it looked as though a miraculous polio vaccine signalled an end to new cases of the crippling disease. But a recent medical condition known as post-polio syndrome has survivors reliving the sequel to this once-forgotten nightmare.

Decades after the last Canadian polio outbreak in 1959, a new medical condition revisits polio survivors. Some of these symptoms include extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle and joint pain, and muscular atrophy.
Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that strikes polio survivors anywhere from 10 to 40 years after recovery from the initial attack. Doctors believe PPS is caused by further weakening of the muscles previously damaged by polio.

It also seems to occur as a result of healthy muscles deteriorating after years of over-compensating for the damaged muscles.
PPS is particularly devastating for those who believed they had polio beat. In severe cases former survivors must once again use an artificial lung, reminiscent of the dreaded iron lung.
Like polio itself, there is no known cure for PPS.
• Post polio syndrome strikes almost one quarter of the 20,000 - 30,000 Canadians who survived their initial bout with polio.

• There has been much debate over the role of exercise in combating PPS. Some doctors say too much exercise can make the condition worse while others say this is unfounded and has not been scientifically documented. Both sides agree more study is needed.

• In 1940 Australian nurse sister Elizabeth Kenny came up with her rigorous and unorthodox treatments for polio. The Kenny treatments used towels dipped in boiling hot water. These were laid on the muscles along with intense, often painful stretches to prevent muscular atrophy.

• Ironically some doctors believe the degree of intensity of the Kenny treatment has a direct correlation to the severity of PPS.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: March 10, 1986
Guest(s): Alan Goldburn, Roger Goldstein, Elsie Sample
Host: Bill Cameron
Reporter: Gillian Findlay
Duration: 6:25

Last updated: January 25, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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