Please see the Australian Government’s description of polio and its cause and treatment, followed by alternative information you may wish to consider before vaccinating for polio.
From the Australian Government
Poliomyelitis (Polio) is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause lifelong paralysis, and was once widely fatal. Although there has been no known local transmission of the poliovirus in Australia for the past 30 years, there remains a risk of the importation of polio from overseas – and vaccination of children remains critical.
Polio is spread mainly through contact with infected faeces, leading to gastrointestinal (stomach and gut) infection by one of the three types of polioviruses. Poliovirus infection may progress to paralysis or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes enclosing the brain). About one in 20 people hospitalised with polio die from it, and half of those who survive suffer permanent paralysis.
In 90% of cases, polio has no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they can take between three and 21 days after infection to show. These symptoms can include: headache, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, neck and back stiffness, severe muscle pain, and paralysis.
Vaccination has been highly effective in reducing the incidence of polio worldwide, and the World Health Organization-led Global Polio Eradication Initiative is currently targeting a polio-free world by 2018.
Source: Poliomyelitis (Polio)
The other side
‘Poliomyelitis’ means “inflammation of the grey matter of the spinal cord”, and in some cases of polio the brainstem also becomes inflamed.
Polio paralysis is said to be caused by a virus that passes from the digestive system into the blood stream, then invades nerve endings and travels up nerves to the anterior horns (front projections) of the spinal cord. While there it causes inflammation, causing paralysis of muscles associated with the inflamed area.
It has been widely claimed that polio vaccines have eradicated polio in developed nations, and are on the way to doing the same in the rest of the world. In order to inform ourselves about the polio vaccine, we need to examine this claim. The information below comes from resources listed at the end of this page.
The rise of polio
The rise in paralytic polio in the developed world began in the late 19th century, at a time when deaths and dangerous complications from all other infectious diseases were declining sharply. The medical profession eventually decided paralysis was a complication of infection with a virus they named “poliovirus”, and scientists developed two different vaccines to prevent infection with this virus.
Poliovirus, which has 3 serotypes, is an enterovirus i.e. it is a member of the genus Enterovirus, which are viruses of the digestive system. This genus includes many different species and serotypes of viruses. Poliovirus has been circulating harmlessly in our populations for thousands or years.
The question is: what caused the sudden rise in polio in the late 1800s, when poliovirus infection had been universal and benign for such a long time?
Health authorities explain that because of improvements in sanitation and other living conditions, people did not develop the immunity they once had to this virus, so became more vulnerable to it. This makes no sense though, because deaths from all other viral and bacterial diseases were plummeting during this period, in industrialised nations.
Many people have linked the rise of polio to the production and use of pesticides, firstly lead arsenate, 1893 to late 1940s, then DDT, theorising these pesticides make nerve endings susceptible to invasion by viruses if there is an active infection in the body.
In the 1940s and 50s DDT was sprayed on food crops. It was also used widely in homes and water supplies and sprayed in public places, largely in an effort to prevent polio, which people believed was spread by insects. Paralytic polio dropped away in the developed world at around the time DDT was no longer used. You may wish to investigate the pesticide theory further if you are looking into the polio vaccine.
It is of interest that DDT is still produced and freely available in India and some other third world nations. Also, a large part of India has arsenic in water in wells built by UNICEF, see here
Development of the polio vaccine.
In 1909 scientists were credited with connecting polio to an invisible mystery agent they called a “virus” (“virus” means “poisonous liquid” in Latin).
The scientists had injected mashed spinal cord from a polio victim directly into the brains of two monkeys, and observed that both monkeys developed lesions in their spinal cords and brains that appeared ito be the same as those found in humans suffering from polio, and one monkey became paralysed in both legs.
Viruses as we know them today are far too small to be seen with the microscopes of the time (they are much smaller than bacteria), and there were many different substances in the mixture injected into the monkeys.
The hunt was then on for many years to find this mystery “virus”, under considerable pressure from the public, and many thousands of monkeys were sacrificed. In 1948, scientists injected diluted faeces from paralysed children into brains of mice, making suckling mice paralysed, and they claimed from this they had isolated the mystery virus.
Over the decades, scientists could not make any of the mixtures said to contain the “virus” cause polio in the natural way i.e. via the oral route, so they had no proof they had found their mystery agent. They could only achieve paralysis by injecting the mixtures directly into animal brains, which is obviously not how people contract polio.
Eventually in 1953 vaccine researchers using an electron microscope photographed small spheres in diluted human faeces, and named them ‘poliovirus’. By then Jonas Salk was already developing the first polio vaccine from faeces, which happened to be collected from healthy children.
Read more in these two articles:
The start of the hunt for the polio vaccine Virus
Will The Poliovirus Eradication Program Rid the World of Childhood Paralysis?
In the early days of polio outbreaks, starting in the 1890s, polio cases were reported to health authorities only if they involved paralysis. Most paralysis resolved in a short time, only a small proportion of this paralysis became permanent or fatal.
From around 1940 cases were also reported if there was no paralysis but it was believed poliovirus was causing illness (e.g. flu-like symptoms and muscle weakness). Cases were now described as ‘paralytic polio’ and ‘non-paralytic polio’. This resulted in an increase in reported cases after 1940.
It should be noted that up to 1958, polio, whether paralytic or not, was diagnosed on symptoms by a doctor, not by a pathology test.
The fall of polio
Records show that reported polio fell away quickly after polio vaccination began in 1955. Vaccination has been given the credit for this, but health authorities made changes to reporting methods at this time. Briefly, those changes were:
- Paralysis had to last for at least 60 days for a case to be called ‘paralytic polio’, previously it had been 24 hours.
- ‘Non-paralytic’ cases, including all the paralysis cases lasting less than 60 days, were no longer called polio.
- From 1958 polio cases could only be established with a strict pathology test finding the presence of poliovirus, rather than from diagnosis by a doctor on symptoms.
Also, for a case to be called polio the pathology test had to show presence of the ‘wild type’ of poliovirus, not the vaccine type (meaning paralytic polio contracted from vaccination was not counted).
Unsurprisingly, the number of reported cases of polio dropped off dramatically after the new reporting procedures were introduced, coinciding with the introduction of polio vaccination.
Use of DDT subsided in the late 1950s, as insects became resistant to it and people began to suspect to was poisonous, as did cases of polio. Also, Silent Spring, a book about damage to the environment by DDT, was published in 1962, leading to DDT being eventually banned in the United States.
Paralysis cases today
As a result of the new reporting procedures, cases that had previously been reported as paralytic polio, but pathology testing showed no evidence of poliovirus, were now diagnosed as other diseases or conditions.
Today there are two terms used for sudden onset paralysis from disease cause, they are Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) and Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP). These two terms tend to get used in different situations.
The CDC (US health authority) says AFM can be caused by a variety of germs, including several viruses, including poliovirus. AFM symptoms are identical to polio, by definition.
About Acute Flaccid Myelitis
There are outbreaks of AFM today, it mainly affects children, some of the victims become permanently paralysed, and some die.
This illness would have been called polio prior to 1955. But poliovirus is not found in these patients, but rather, another enterovirus such as EV-D68 is thought to be associated with this disease. This suggests that other enteroviruses besides poliovirus may have been causing polio in the polio era. See Polio-like syndrome caused by several viruses, CDC says
US investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson has been writing about AFM. You may like to read her article about an outbreak in the US in late 2014, and about her efforts to get information about it from the US health authorities (the CDC):
Mystery Outbreaks Now Linked to 115 Paralyzed Children and 14 Deaths
Here is the CDC page about recent cases of AFM:
AFM in the United States
AFP is a term used for sudden onset paralysis with a broader spectrum of causes, and includes AFM cases. Causes include viruses such as enterovirus, adenovirus and West Nile virus, and other conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (an autoimmune condition) and botulism.
Global Health – Polio
The WHO collects data from many countries about AFP cases, to help with the detection of polio cases.
AFP Surveillance System
In Australia, 61 cases of non-polio AFP in children were confirmed in 2013, a similar number to other years. In 2013 the main diagnoses associated with reported cases of AFP were Guillain-Barrè syndrome, transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM).
Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit annual report, 2013
As with AFM, it is quite possible that many cases described as AFP today could have been diagnosed as polio prior to use of the polio vaccine and poliovirus detection.
We cannot know what caused all the cases of paralytic polio before 1955, but some other paralytic diseases and conditions that may well have been included in the count are transverse myelitis, aseptic meningitis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), cerebral palsy, encephalomyelitis, demyelination, diplegia, hemiplegia, arsenic poisoning and DDT poisoning (the symptoms of many of these are different from polio, apart from some paralysis, but polio was diagnosed by doctors on symptoms and we don’t know what the doctors’ views were in all cases).
The iron lung
We have all seen those frightening images of rows of iron lungs, used to keep polio patients alive when their breathing system has become paralysed. Today patients with respiratory paralysis from AFM and other conditions use ventilators. You can see them if you do an image search using words such as transverse myelitis portable ventilator.
Children in braces
Other frightening images from the polio era are of children with permanently deformed limbs, their legs in braces. Polio paralysis itself did not generally cause these deformities, but rather medical procedures, such as limb immobilisation for six months to two years, cutting tendons, tendon transplants and painful electric treatment. It is known that holding a limb completely immobile for 6 months causes the same paralysis as cutting the nerves.
These procedures caused deformities in patients who would otherwise have recovered completely, and memories and images of these children have contributed to the public’s belief that polio was more dangerous than it actually was.
In the 1930s Australian nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny introduced therapy for paralytic polio patients such as massage, heat treatment and gentle movement, appropriate for flaccid (limp) muscles. She used this with great success in Australia and the US, facilitating the complete recovery of a huge number of paralysis patients. It is well worth looking up her story.
It is common knowledge that today paralysis patients are treated with physiotherapy rather than cutting their tendons and putting their limbs in casts or splints for a year or two or longer, as happened in the polio era.
Polio in India
The WHO claims polio has been eradicated in India by vaccination, but what they fail to say is that AFP cases were counted from 1996 onwards, and as more cases have been discovered, the count has gone up to much the same level as polio was in 1980.
This pattern is repeated throughout the world:
Graphs from Fooling Ourselves
It is also of interest to see how the WHO have calculated the amount of polio in India, for their publicity campaigns. As an example, in 2006 the Vice Chairman of the Indian Medical Association’s Sub-Committee on Immunisation wrote in an Indian medical journal:
“WHO claims five million children have been saved from polio paralysis. It is instructive to see how this figure is arrived at. In 1988, there were 32,419 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis. The WHO arbitrarily raised this number ten-fold to 350,000 claiming incomplete reporting. In 2004 with the changed definition, only culture positive paralysis was considered polio and there were 2000 such cases. Subtracting 2000 from 350,000, the WHO calculated that 348,000 children were saved from paralysis that year.”
It has been known for quite a while now that needle-stick injuries can occasionally result in paralysis.
During polio outbreaks in the polio era, doctors noticed that giving routine vaccines (e.g. diphtheria) could result in paralysis of the arm injected – this type of paralysis became known as ‘provocation polio’. As a result, it became practice for doctors to avoid doing routine vaccinations during polio outbreaks.
It is believed that the needle could injure nerve endings, allowing polio-causing viruses to enter them, should theses viruses be present in the blood stream, as they may well be during a poliovirus outbreak. This theory has a parallel in the idea that pesticides can injure nerves, allowing viruses circulating in the blood to enter and cause paralysis.
Doctors also realised that a high proportion of children in iron lungs, with respiratory paralysis, had had their tonsils out not long before-hand (a procedure which damages nerves). Tonsillectomies were quickly stopped in the 1950s when it was realised the extent of the polio they were causing.
Much of the paralytic polio in developed nations may well have been provocation polio.
This article by polio survivor Kevin Norbury is about provocation polio in Australia:
Vaccine-Associated Paralytic Poliomyelitis (VAPP)
Polio vaccination has caused polio infections leading to paralysis and deaths, in both the recipients and their contacts. In these cases, pathology tests show presence of a lab-created strain of poliovirus used in the vaccine rather than the wild strain.
This is freely admitted by health authorities, to the extent the illness has its own acronym: VAPP. However many people believe the true number of victims has been covered up. You may wish to investigate these claims further.
As an aid to your research, here is brief history of polio vaccines and VAPP:
- Polio vaccination began in the US in 1955, with the injected Salk vaccine, which contained inactivated (killed) poliovirus. It immediately caused paralysis and deaths in a large number of people – this turn of events is known as the Cutter incident (it turned out not all the viruses were killed).
- The oral Sabin vaccine (OPV) replaced the Salk vaccine from 1962 and it contained live (weakened) viruses. This vaccine gave better protection against poliovirus but it also caused much paralysis and death, and was eventually discontinued in first world nations for this reason.
- The injected IPV (inactivated polio vaccine) completely replaced the oral Sabin vaccine by 2000 in the US and 2005 in Australia. Like the first inactivated polio vaccine from 1955, this vaccine stimulates antibody production in the blood, while the poliovirus lives in the gut, so it cannot prevent infection or transmission of poliovirus.
- The oral Sabin vaccine is still used in third world countries today, because it is cheap and easy to administer, and is better at preventing polio outbreaks than the IPV. Paralysis victims of this vaccine are mounting up and are not included in polio statistics, as they don’t have the wild type of poliovirus.
Please note that viruses are not living entities in themselves, but are more like tiny machines that replicate automatically once inside a host. Thus they are not really ‘live’ or ‘killed’ – these terms are used in the context of vaccines to mean the viruses are either capable or incapable of activation.
How dangerous was polio?
The following graph shows deaths from polio in Australia. The worst outbreak for all ages was in 1951, and there were around 3.8 deaths per 100,000 of population, which equates to about 320 deaths that year.
Graph from Fooling Ourselves
While polio deaths were tragic, and many more people had residual paralysis, the polio death rate in 1951 was less than for many other causes of death at the time.
In the pre-1955 period, the vast majority of people who contracted the poliovirus had either no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms, only a small proportion developed paralysis, and most of this paralysis resolved in a few hours or days (unless made permanent by medical procedures). Even people with respiratory paralysis usually only stayed in iron lungs for less than a week.
Health authorities put percentage rates to these occurrences today, but it should be noted that before 1958 the only diagnosis criteria was the opinion of a doctor (which was influenced by what was happening around him), so percentage occurrences for that time are estimations based on inconsistent data.
Has the vaccine worked?
The goal of polio vaccination has been to eradicate the wild strain of poliovirus from our populations, and eradication of this strain of poliovirus has officially been achieved in the first world, although this cannot be established without doing a strict pathology test on every single person’s stool (perhaps don’t think about that too much).
However, it does appear that removing the wild strain of poliovirus from our populations has not achieved the goal of getting rid of the strange and sometimes deadly paralytic conditions that still occur in worrying numbers, which surely was the deeper intention of the vaccination program.
In Australia today, the IPV polio vaccine is given routinely to babies at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, in the 6-disease vaccine product Infanrix hexa. A dose (single injection) of Infanrix hexa contains vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), as well as polio.
The IPV is also given at 4 years, in Infanrix IPV. A dose of Infanrix IPV contains vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, as well as polio. As mentioned above in the VAPP section, the IPV vaccine cannot stop infection or transmission of poliovirus, and can at best perhaps prevent poliovirus from entering nerve endings via the blood stream – in other words, this vaccine can at best protect the recipient from paralysis, and cannot stop infection and transmission throughout communities.
When deciding whether to vaccinate your child, it is a good idea to read product information from the manufacturers, which you can find easily with a web search. Firstly, look up the vaccination schedule for your state, to confirm the product names (in case they differ from the products named above). Then find official product information from the manufacturers – these will usually be PDFs. Infanrix vaccines are made by GlaxoSmithKline.
We suggest you look carefully at ingredients of the vaccines, contraindications and possible side effects. Also have a look at safety studies, and notice the number of subjects and follow-up time period.
The Moth in the Iron Lung by Forrest Meready
Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and The Forgotten History by Suzanne Humphries MD & Roman Bystrianyk (Chapter 12)
Fooling Ourselves: on the fundamental value of vaccines by Greg Beattie (Chapter 7)
Polio and losing the use of a hand did not stop Kevin Norbury (this article is behind a paywall, but you can see it if you access it from a twitter post)
CDC pink book – Poliomyelitis (US government information)
Transverse Myelitis (National MS Society)