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Polio explained: Paul Alexander dies after 70 years in iron lung

'Polio Paul', the longest living polio survivor in an iron lung, dies at 78. Global efforts have reduced polio cases significantly.

Paul Alexander, also known as 'Polio Paul', was the longest living polio survivor who spent his life in an iron lung. He contracted the disease at the age of six in 1952, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite his condition, Paul pursued a career in law, set a Guinness World Record for the longest time spent in an iron lung, and even became a published author with his memoir, Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung, released in 2020.

The World Health Assembly launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, aiming to eradicate the disease. Since then, wild poliovirus cases have decreased by over 99%, from 350,000 cases in 125 countries to just six reported cases in 2021. Wild poliovirus type 2 was eradicated in 1999, and type 3 in 2020, with only type 1 remaining endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan as of 2022.

In the UK, there have been no confirmed cases of polio-induced paralysis since 1984. While there is no cure for polio, the risk of contracting the disease is rare, especially if fully vaccinated. It is recommended to seek advice from healthcare professionals before traveling abroad, as some countries may require a polio booster vaccine.

Polio is a highly infectious virus that spreads through contact with infected faeces, coughs, sneezes, or contaminated food and water. Proper hand hygiene is crucial in preventing the spread of the disease. Symptoms of polio can range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe muscle weakness and paralysis, with the potential to be life-threatening if it affects the muscles used for breathing.

The legacy of 'Polio Paul' serves as a reminder of the importance of vaccination and global efforts to eradicate diseases like polio. His story highlights the progress made in combating the disease and the importance of continued vigilance to prevent its resurgence.

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