However, in rare cases poliomyelitis can also affect the head, neck and diaphragm. But, in fact, the vast majority of people who contract polio escape its worst effects. Unnervingly, some 70 percent of those who contract the disease actually experience no symptoms at all. This, alas, makes them unwitting carriers of the virus for an infection time of six weeks. Nevertheless, only as few as one percent of those infected will experience a weakening of the muscles, resulting in paralysis.
This is when the poliovirus attacks the pathways of the central nervous system along the spine and in the brain stem. The virus reproduces itself in motor neurons, laying waste to them in the process. And, tragically, of those children who succumb to polio, some two to five percent will die. Moreover, this figure rockets to 30 percent in affected adults. But, in truth, the majority of people who contract polio will have either no symptoms, or an illness from which they will recover.
This is, of course, little comfort for those unlucky enough to suffer the worst effects of the polio virus. They face a life of painful physical disruption. The weakening of the muscles can result in paralytic poliomyelitis, as the virus travels along the nerve super highways destroying motor neurons. In children like the six-year-old Paul Alexander, only one in every 1,000 will develop paralysis, but for those that do it is a terrible affliction.