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What is the poliovirus?

Polioviruses are spherical, non-enveloped RNA viruses that belong to the family of picornaviruses and to the genus enteroviruses. The hepatitis A virus, for example, also belongs to this genus. Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper (1908) are considered the discoverers of the poliovirus. In 1981, the viral genome was sequenced, which was helpful in researching connections between poliomyelitis cases. A distinction is made between three types of the poliovirus (types 1, 2, 3).

In general, polioviruses are considered highly resistant (both to lipid soluble agents such as ether, chloroform and detergents, as well as to a variety of proteolytic enzymes in the human body). Polioviruses spread worldwide before the polio vaccination was introduced in 1988. Today, 80% of people live in polio-free areas.

How is the poliovirus transmitted?

In general, the poliovirus is transmitted through direct or indirect contact with contaminated individuals or surfaces through a so-called faecal-oral smear infection. However, it can also be transmitted aerogenically (in the air) shortly after infection. Once the virus in in the infected person’s body, it begins to multiply massively in the epithelia, cell tissue that is then excreted by the intestine. The incubation period is three to 35 days.

What are symptoms of the disease?

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is an infectious disease caused by polioviruses that mainly affect children. Some 95% of the infections are asymptomatic, while 5% of people are infected with mild poliomyelitis and have short-term symptoms such as fever, nausea, sore throat, headache or gastroenteritis. If the virus attacks the central nervous system, this can have serious consequences and can cause paralysis in the person affected.

There are three serious forms of progression:
(1) Non-paralytic poliomyelitis (aseptic meningitis, affecting 2% to 4% of cases) can lead to fever, neck stiffness, back pain or muscle spasms.
(2) Paralytic poliomyelitis (affects 0.1% to 1% of cases) causes back, neck and muscle pain, as well as paralysis. These motoric weaknesses and paralyses occur asymmetrically and usually affect leg, arm, abdominal, thoracic and eye muscles.
(3) The post-polio syndrome occurs years or decades after infection and can also manifest itself in paralysis and muscle atrophy.

Since there are no specific antiviral drugs for polio, only symptomatic treatment is given. For severe forms of polio, a longer-lasting orthopaedic or physiological therapy may be necessary. Experts recommend polio vaccination at an early age to prevent complications arising from poliovirus infections.

Significance for infections in hospitals and in the outpatient sector

If a clinical or laboratory diagnosis of poliomyelitis is suspected, the patient must be hospitalized immediately. The strict, necessary hygiene measures include isolation, hand disinfection with virucidal hand disinfectants, barrier measures (wearing protective gowns and gloves), as well as post-disinfection with virucidal disinfectants. Any suspicion of illness, disease cases and deaths caused by poliomyelitis must be reported to health authorities within 24 hours.

Survival time of pathogens on inanimate surfaces

Poliovirus Typ 1: 4 hours – 8 days

Poliovirus Typ 2: 1 day – 8 weeks

Disinfectant effectiveness for prevention

The required spectrum of activity against polioviruses is: virucidal

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