Comparing the Polio Virus with the Coronavirus continued…

Who is Vulnerable?

A At first it was thought that only babies got polio, hence the original term infantile paralysis. However, children who contracted the poliovirus were usually under the age of five.  But older children began to get sick, too. Boys more often than girls got polio and surprisingly, usually only one member of a family contracted polio. However,  some adults also contracted the virus. It was also thought that someone who had been under extreme stress or been involved in strenuous activity after exposure to the virus was at increased risk. (see Franklin Roosevelt’s story in my activity book as to why and how he contracted the poliovirus). It was also thought that anyone who had their tonsils out, was pregnant, or had a weakened immune system, such as being HIV-positive is more at risk.

B At first, COVID19 was thought to affect only the elderly and those with a compromised immune system. However, recently a twelve-year-old has died as well as some adults in their forties and fifties. Seniors in nursing homes have been hit particularly hard with many deaths reported. Some children also have experienced some unusual symptoms which seem to be connected with the virus.

What Time of Year do the viruses Prefer?

A Polio arrived during the summer months, so this time was often referred to as polio summers. The worst epidemics were during the hottest months, August being the worst time.

B. The Coronavirus is new to humans and although it arrived in December 2019, the general public didn’t know about it until early January 2020. At this time, it is not known when this virus will show up again once it is hopefully stopped. However, it appears to prefer colder/cooler i.e., late winter/early spring temperatures, if its first appearance is any indication.

Preventing the spread of the virus

A People were warned to stay away from crowds. Children’s Day at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition was cancelled and children didn’t go back to school until after Thanksgiving when cooler temperatures had returned. Parents were to keep their kids indoors or within their own yards. Quarantine signs on doors meant the whole family was quarantined. Then neighbours left groceries on their doorsteps. Insects were held suspect so children were given fly swatters and told to kill as many flies as they could. Swimming pools were closed as the water was also considered as a possible source of spreading the virus. People were reminded to use good hygiene. Thousands lined up for train tickets to leave the city with the hope there would be less chance of getting the virus in less populated areas. Some small communities and resorts put up roadblocks to keep people out. Those wishing in had to have proof that they were not carrying the virus.

Parents could not comfort their children who were in an iron lung but could only wave from behind a glass wall.

Incubation time for non-paralytic polio was 3-6 days and 7-12 for on-set paralysis.

B Cruise ships were turned away from countries and quarantined as they carried passengers who had the virus or were potential carriers of COVID19. People were told to stay at home except for essential service workers. And curbside delivery and pick-up became common. Social distancing and the 14-day quarantine were introduced, along with self-isolation with the threat of fines and or jail time if the rules were not followed. Parks, playgrounds, movie theatres, stadiums and schools, were closed. And airlines were shut down. Everything but essential services such as hospitals, grocery stores, garbage collection, buses and taxis were closed. People working in these services were screened and tested  frequently. Seniors in nursing homes could  communicate only through their window as no one was allowed in during the pandemic. People were constantly reminded to wash hands thoroughly, keep your hands off your face, cough into your sleeve, wear a mask, stay at home,  and not to gather in groups. The CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) was cancelled due to the pandemic. This is only the second time since World War 11 that it has been shut down completely, People tried to leave their homes in an attempt to find a safer place to avoid COVID19. Some places refuse  others in fearing the spread of the virus into their country.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.


A Jonas Salk and his team worked incessantly for two and a half years to produce a vaccine for polio. There was not the modern technology we have today. Some tried taking medications that actually had bad side effects because they were so terrified of getting the virus. There is no cure for polio, only prevention by being immunized.

B There is experimental testing now to produce a vaccine for COVID19. It is estimated that it will be a year before a vaccine will be developed. As it stands there is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Some people are trying untested treatments, not approved by the  health department, disregarding warnings that  they may have harmful side effects.


A Dr. Salk came to the Connaught Laboratory at the University of Toronto Canada to ask for help as this Lab was known well known for their work with vaccines. He needed help in two ways: first to make his vaccine safe for humans and secondly to have the vaccine available in huge quantities for the field trial which would be needed to be done before the vaccine went to full production. Connaught scientists were able to do both for Dr. Salk. He was then able to carry on with the last step which was killing the live virus. Connaught Laboratory supplied all the poliovirus fluids needed (3,000 litres) for the United States to complete the largest medical experiment in history. April 12, 1955, the polio vaccine was declared safe and that it worked.

B Canada and the United States sent masks to China when COVID 19 broke out there, with the hope that China would reciprocate during our drastic shortage needed for our front line workers.  Lack of safety equipment such as proper masks as well as ventilators has been a real problem putting those on the front line at risk and afraid to go to work As of now a  trial vaccine is about to be tested. Still, it is a long process before a vaccine if it is proven safe and efficient before it will be available.

Shortage of medical equipment

A There was a shortage of Iron lungs during the polio pandemic. At Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, there was a little 5-year-old who was going to die without an iron lung and there were none left. Out of desperation, a wooden one was built in the basement of the hospital which saved his life. During an epidemic in Winnipeg, one hospital needed 92 lungs at one time.

B Canada is facing a similar situation at this time. And companies are refitting their workplaces to make hand sanitizers, face shields, etc. Individuals are sewing hundreds of face masks streetwear. Still, we are short protective gear for those working on the front lines which to me is a moral issue.

A/B A Moral Dilemma:

Who decided who got the last iron lung or who gets the last ventilator? What a sad, scary scenario for all those involved including the patients and the doctors. Hopefully, in the future, we will be more prepared for such a situation so that no one will have to make a decision such as this.

Chances of Reoccurrence:

A Adults who had polio as a child may have the return of the symptoms when they get older.  This is referred to as Post-Polio Syndrome-(PPS). Sadly, often the symptoms are more severe than the original ones were.

B There is already talking about the chance of a 2nd wave of the coronavirus in the fall. But because it is a new virus to humans, we don’t know yet. We can only hope and pray that this will not be the case.

Note: The time period of each virus could also be compared under the titles – social, political and economic events. (This is covered for the poliovirus  in my activity book). Since we have now experienced COVID19, the above categories would prove to make for more interesting comparisons.

Note: The above information is correct to the best of my ability at the time of this post. However, changes are happening on a daily basis with  COVID19 and will continue to do so as things beginning to open up.

Comparing the Polio Virus with the Coronavirus


Although it has been said that we are living in unprecedented times, which may be true, we tend to forget about other periods in history that also experienced a pandemic. The era of the poliovirus, which killed and maimed many, is one of these periods which can be compared to the times we are now experiencing.  However, there is one significant difference, that being, polio is an old disease, while coronavirus is a new virus until now, unknown to man. Both, unfortunately, are highly contagious.

The following series of blogs is a comparison between the A poliovirus and B. the coronavirus under the following headings: Identifying names, symptoms, severity, effects, origin, method of spreading, testing, the most vulnerable, the season of occurrence, prevention, vaccines, collaboration, medical equipment, moral dilemmas, and recurrence.

Note:  Today many people, especially those who are younger have never heard of polio, thanks to the polio vaccine. However, despite the tremendous global effort and encouraging results, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have never been able to eradicate polio. And as long as there is even one case anywhere in the world, polio is not yet eradicated, which is of concern since it can easily travel to different parts of the world.  However, since most countries no longer have polio cases, I will be referring to polio in the past tense in this article.

Identifying Names

A Poliomyelitis was the first scientific name used to describe the virus which comes from the words-Polios which is the Greek word for grey – referring to the grey matter of the nervous system, and Myelos the word for marrow referring to the myelin sheath surrounding specific nerve fibres since the poliovirus attacks the nervous system. However, it was commonly referred to as polio by the general public. Other names included infantile paralysis, spinal disease, Roosevelt’s Disease and the summer plague.

B Coronavirus, COVID-19, The World Health Organization (WHO) gave the virus this identification Feb. 2020. It is the short form for coronavirus disease 2019.


A   Polio symptoms could start out by having trouble breathing and trouble swallowing and speaking, or having muscle pain, neck and back stiffness,  spastic reflexes, fever, headache, vomiting and fatigue. However, if the virus was the paralytic type, a week after experiencing the above symptoms, more severe symptoms would appear such as loss of reflexes, severe spasms and muscle pain, loose or floppy limbs (could be one side only) and deformed limbs, especially in the hip, ankle and feet.

B  Coronavirus symptoms include fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, respiratory problems, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, congestion, runny nose, muscle and body aches and fatigue.

Note:  Having symptoms very similar to the flu these viruses were often mistaken for influenza.

Severity of the virus

A.Polio not only paralyzed thousands of children every year but also was fatal for many. As such it was one of the most feared diseases of industrialized countries because it occurred without warning and no one knew what caused it or knew how to treat it.

B. COVID19 caused havoc around the world on a scale we have not seen in recent years resulting in many deaths as well as an economic disaster with all but essential services being shut down. Lack of enough equipment such as ventilators and masks, gloves, gowns etc. have made front line workers vulnerable and fearful.

Both viruses spread very rapidly both quickly turning into an epidemic and then a pandemic (worldwide), along with the negative psychological effects of stress which both caused.

 Physical Effects of the virus

A Whole families were quarantined and some patients needed to be in an iron lung resulting in being separated from family and far from home. Some were disabled ending up being in a wheelchair for life. The school term was altered, churches, movie theatres and swimming pools were closed Also, there was a scarcity of equipment such as iron lungs. And there were many deaths. Parents were asked to keep their children inside the house or within their yards.

B Many have been hospitalized with some being able to regain their health, but also many dying. Quarantines,  self-isolation, social distancing and wearing a mask became mandatory.  Heart issues, side effects from the virus have resulted in blood clots, men being the most seriously affected. Children, although thought not to be affected by COVID19  at first, began showing baffling new symptoms such as corona toes, a red blotchy rash, similar to Kawasaki disease. Children also have become sick with inflamed blood vessels. Some have arrived at Sick Kids in Toronto with swollen lips, eyes, tongue, as well as the soles of their feet.

Where did Each Virus Originate?

A The virus was first identified in the Rhesus monkey but polio actually occurred thousands of years ago in different parts of the world before it was recorded as a disease in the late 18th century.  By the 19th century it as widespread in Europe.  Epidemics were not known in the United States until the early 20th century- the first epidemic occurring in Vermont in 1894. And in 1952, polio cases were at their highest in the United States.  Meanwhile, Canada had its first polio case in 1910 but got very little national attention until much later. The worst period was between 1927 and 1953 with the 1940s and 50s having the largest number with the disease.

B The Coronavirus came from a live animal market in Wuhan, China. It is thought that a bat carried the virus. In the meantime, the virus has spread throughout the world, including the United States and Canada.

How do the Viruses Spread?

A. Poor sanitation was thought as a possible way the poliovirus might spread.  Also,  insects like flies were suspect as carriers.  Infected water was another possible consideration. Or that it might be carried in the air.  The final conclusion was that the poliovirus was usually spread through the feces of a person infected with the virus. In areas of poor sanitation where there was limited running water or flush toilets, the virus spread rapidly getting into the water supply. It also could enter the body through food handled by someone with the virus or through infected drinking water contaminated by human waste. It could also spread by the droplets from a sneeze or a cough, although this was considered to happen less often.

B. The coronavirus spread through having close contact with others who are infected ( even unknowingly). Hence the social distancing rule of keeping 6 feet apart. Being in large crowds was forbidden. Touching hands to one’s face, nose or eyes, sneezing/coughing without covering one’s mouth, not washing hands thoroughly, and touching objects such as phones, computers etc could also spread the virus.

Recently,  some communities in the United States are testing wastewater samples to see if COVID19 shows up and if so to what degree. Public Health Officials can then use this information as an indicator of trends. This was also done during the polio epidemic. However, there are some limitations to this type of testing,  due to the age and type of sewage system.

How is Testing done?

A  Testing for the poliovirus was done by a throat swab as well as testing a stool sample. Also, If you could not lift your head enough to look at your belly button, you were almost sure to have the poliovirus. However, the definitive test is a painful procedure known as a spinal tap or lumbar puncture, when a needle is inserted into the spine to get out some of the liquid to check for the virus.

B Screening is done for COVID19 by taking a nasal swab, checking the temperature of an individual and having them respond to specific questions relating to COVID symptoms followed by a  COVID19 test if the person is symptomatic  The test confirms a positive or negative diagnosis for COVID-19. Essential workers were tested on a regular basis as well as those having tested positive.