Category: Vaxopedia

Myths About Polio and Acute Flaccid Paralysis

Polio is one of the most well known causes of acute flaccid paralysis.

Although most people with polio infections have no symptoms at all ,or just have a very mild illness, with a sore throat and a low grade fever, a small percentage can develop:

  • a loss of superficial reflexes
  • severe muscle aches and spasms in their limbs or back
  • an asymmetrical flaccid paralysis with diminished deep tendon reflexes

This acute flaccid paralysis only affects the child’s strength in the affected muscle groups – there is no loss of sensation. The severity of the symptoms and the disease depends on which muscles are affected the most. If it is just your legs, then you will have trouble walking. On the other hand, if affects your chest, then you might not be able to bring unless you are put on a ventilator (iron lung).

Acute Flaccid Paralysis

Thinking about it in the context of polio, it becomes easy to understand acute flaccid paralysis or AFP.

It is the sudden onset (acute) of a flaccid (floppy or poor muscle tone) paralysis (weakness or inability to move) of one or more muscles.

But what many people don’t understand, is that in addition to polio, there are many more non-polio causes of AFP.

Non-Polio AFP

Many of us got a crash course in non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NP-AFP) a few years ago when we started hearing reports of kids developing polio-like paralysis in 2014. Now thought to be caused by enterovirus D68 infections (EV-D68), the paralysis followed respiratory tract infections in many of the affected children. All together, at least 120 children in 34 states developed acute flaccid paralysis that year.

Interestingly, EV-D68 is one of more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses. The virus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease, coxsackievirus A16, is another. Others cause pinkeye, meningitis, or encephalitis.

Keep in mind that many other viruses and conditions can cause non-polio AFP though, including:

  • Guillian-Barré syndrome
  • toxins (botulism)
  • tumors
  • transverse myelitis
  • traumatic neuritis
  • other infections, including novel enterovirus C105, a non-polio enterovirus, and even tick-borne (Lyme disease) and mosquito-borne (Japanese encephalitis) infections

How do you determine the cause and how do you know it isn’t polio?

These kids with AFP typically have extensive testing to determine what is causing their AFP, including an MRI, antibody tests, and testing of their cerebrospinal fluid, etc. Although it isn’t always possible to identify a cause, you can at least rule out many potential suspects, like trauma, polio, and other infections.

Myths About Polio and Acute Flaccid Paralysis

Some folks don’t believe in non-polio AFP.

They believe that polio never really disappeared because vaccines don’t really work and that polio was simply renamed to, you guessed it, acute flaccid paralysis.

“Unbeknownst to most doctors, the polio-vaccine history involves a massive public health service makeover during an era when a live, deadly strain of poliovirus infected the Salk polio vaccines, and paralyzed hundreds of children and their contacts. These were the vaccines that were supposedly responsible for the decline in polio from 1955 to 1961! But there is a more sinister reason for the “decline” in polio during those years; in 1955, a very creative re-definition of poliovirus infections was invented, to “cover” the fact that many cases of ”polio” paralysis had no poliovirus in their systems at all. While this protected the reputation of the Salk vaccine, it muddied the waters of history in a big way.”

Suzanne Humphries, MD on Smoke, Mirrors, and the “Disappearance” Of Polio

What’s there evidence?

A rise in cases of non-polio AFP in India since 1997.

How do we know that there has been a rise in non-polio AFP cases in India since 1997?

It’s very simple and explains why there isn’t any data on before that 1997. As part of the strategy to eliminate polio in that country, starting in 1997, all cases of AFP started getting tested for polio. It was a way to track the effectiveness of the immunization program. If you were seeing too many cases of AFP caused by polio, then not enough people were getting vaccinated. On the other hand, if you weren’t seeing any cases of AFP in an area, then the testing and surveillance probably wasn’t getting none, since there will always be some cases of non-polio AFP.

Unfortunately, they found many cases to track. And the cases kept increasing, although more and more, they weren’t being caused by polio. At least not by live polio virus.

Were they caused by the polio vaccine?

In some cases, yes. It is well known that the live polio vaccine can rarely cause VAPP and cVDPV.

By 2015, after polio was declared free of polio (the last case was in 2011), none of those cases of AFP were found to be caused by wild polio though. And India hasn’t had a case of cVDPV since 2010.

Why the increase in cases of non-polio AFP? It certainly isn’t because of Suzanne Humphries’ polio virus renaming conspiracy or any other anti-vaccine conspiracy involving the polio vaccine itself.

The 'data' that Susanne Humphries uses to try and make her case about AFP neglects to mention that in the pre-vaccine era, polio paralyzed 500 to 1,000 children in India each day! Those 180,000 to 365,000 cases of paralysis wouldn't fit on her chart though...
The ‘data’ that Susanne Humphries uses to try and make her case about AFP neglects to mention that in the pre-vaccine era, polio paralyzed 500 to 1,000 children in India each day! Those 180,000 to 365,000 cases of paralysis wouldn’t fit on her chart though…

If we simply renamed polio to non-polio AFP, why did the numbers drop for so long and then slowly start to increase? Shouldn’t it have been a rapid crossover?

More importantly,  why are the case of paralysis from non-polio AFP so much lower than the pre-vaccine era cases of AFP from polio?

And how come we rarely see large outbreaks of AFP like we did in the pre-vaccine era?

Sure, 120 kids in the EV-D68 non-polio AFP outbreak of 2014 is way more than any of us would like to see, but it is tremendously less than what we used to see in the pre-vaccine era from polio.

“Poliomyelitis is one of the important emergent viral diseases of the twentieth century… At its height, from 1950–1954, poliomyelitis resulted in the paralysis of some 22,000 U.S. citizens each year… Many thousands were left permanently disabled by the disease, while many others suffocated as a consequence of respiratory paralysis.”

Barry Trevelyan on the The Spatial Dynamics of Poliomyelitis in the US

While anti-vaccine conspiracy theories about AFP are as easy to dismiss as all of the rest they bring up,  what is behind the rise in AFP in some areas of the world?

Although one study that was published in Pediatrics, “Trends in Nonpolio Acute Flaccid Paralysis Incidence in India 2000 to 2013,” did find a correlation between the use of the OPV vaccine and the incidence of non-polio AFP, many experts think the rise is a result of better screening. Also, once polio gets under control, other more neglected diseases start getting more attention, like enteroviral infections. Not surprisingly, other parts of the world have had the same experience.

There is also the fact that in 2005, the Global Poliomyelitis Eradication Initiative began “to cast a wider net for poliovirus detection and to maximize sensitivity so that every poliomyelitis case is detected.” Why? If even a single case was missed, it could lead to continued outbreaks and would get in the way of polio elimination in the country.

“This large increase in NP-AFP cases, which represent AFP cases caused by agents other than poliovirus, probably reflects the excellent implementation of the expanded definition of AFP and highly sensitive surveillance and detection methods used by NPSP in India from 2005 onwards…”

C. Durga Rao on Nonpolio Acute Flaccid Paralysis in India

So did the polio vaccine recently cause 53,000 paralysis victims in India?

No. The polio vaccine has worked to get us on the brink of eradicating polio though.

What To Know About Acute Flaccid Paralysis

Acute flaccid paralysis can be caused by the polio virus, but non-polio acute flaccid paralysis becomes a more important cause once polio is eliminated in a region.

More About Acute Flaccid Paralysis

Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

My uncle got polio just before the vaccine was developed. He was hospitalized for six months, almost didn't survive, and lived with atrophied muscles in one of his legs.
My uncle got polio just before the vaccine was developed. He was hospitalized for six months, almost didn’t survive, and lived with atrophied muscles in one of his legs.

A rather strange anti-vaccine argument you might sometimes hear is that you can’t unvaccinate your kids (even though they push detox plans that say they do exactly that), so go ahead and wait to vaccinate them until you have “done your research” and are sure.

The problem with that argument, like most others that anti-vaccine folks use to justify their decisions to skip or delay vaccines, is that you can wait too long.

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Benjamin Franklin Autobiography

Tragically, Ben Franklin wasn’t the last parent to regret not vaccinating his child.

More Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

Roald Dahl, who famously wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is less well known for having a daughter who died of measles. It was just before the measles vaccine came out, so he didn’t regret not vaccinating her, but in urging other parents to protect their children, he did seem to regret that a vaccine wasn’t yet available.

For many other parents, a vaccine was available that could have kept their kids from getting sick.

“In 1989, the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine was relatively new and not yet routine. I was aware of the vaccine’s availability, but, busy mom that I was, I had not yet made the trip to the health department to get the immunization for my two-year-old daughter, Sarah. I will always regret that bit of procrastination and the anguish that it caused.”

Peggy Archer

Some of them have shared their personal stories, including the parents of:

  • Abby Peterson‘s “pediatrician steered her away from vaccinating her daughter” against chickenpox and her mother, Duffy Peterson, now says that “she wishes she had questioned the doctor’s recommendations more forcefully.” Abby died of a chicken pox infection.
  • Emily Lastinger who was unvaccinated and died of flu.
  • After all seven of her unvaccinated kids caught whooping cough, this parent regretted not having them vaccinated.
  • Claire Noelle Bakke who got pertussis when she was five weeks old
  • Scarlet Anne Taylor who died of the flu during the 2014-15 flu season
  • this unvaccinated three year old who spent six days in the hospital (part of it in a slight coma, during which they weren’t sure he would survive) with Haemophilus influenzae type b epiglottitis
  • Abigail who was unvaccinated and died of invasive pneumococcal disease
  • these two unvaccinated kids who developed severe dehydration from rotavirus infections
  • Sarah who was unvaccinated and developed a croupy cough when she was two-years-old and ended up on a ventilator with Haemophilus influenzae type b epiglottitis
  • Ashley who died from the flu and had never gotten a flu shot
  • Evan who died of a vaccine-preventable disease because his mom was not told about the vaccine that could have prevented it

There is another group of parents who have regrets about vaccines. Those parents whose kids can’t be vaccinated (too young to be vaccinated, have cancer, or have another medical exemption, etc.) are put at risk and exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases by intentionally unvaccinated kids. These parents typically regret that those around them don’t get vaccinated and protected.

Your decision to get educated and vaccinate your family shouldn’t be based on fear or concerns of regret if you delay or skip any vaccines, but these types of personal stories are important to review, especially if you also hear, watch, or read any stories about vaccine injuries.

What To Know About Regretting Not Vaccinating Your Kids

Delaying or skipping one or more vaccines isn’t safer or healthier, it just puts your child at increased of catching the vaccine-preventable diseases the vaccines protect you against and might lead to feelings of regret if you wait too long.

More On Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

Vaccine Induced Diseases

In addition to autism, many anti-vaccination ‘experts’ continue to claim that vaccines cause other diseases and conditions, including SIDS and Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Vaccine Injuries

Are there any real vaccine induced diseases?

There is vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP), which can rarely occur after getting the oral polio vaccine.

And there are other conditions that are listed as table injuries under the NVICP, including brachial neuritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, thrombocytopenic purpura, and encephalitis, etc.

Vaccine Induced Diseases

Vaccines can also sometimes cause fainting and febrile seizures.

Most other ‘vaccine induced diseases’ that are supposed to be caused by a vaccine injury have been proven to not be though.

These include:

  • ADHD
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • ASIA
  • seasonal allergies
  • asthma
  • Celiac disease
  • diabetes
  • Down syndrome (Trisomy 21)
  • eczema
  • Graves disease
  • Gulf War Syndrome
  • Henoch-Schoenlein purpura
  • infertility
  • Kawasaki syndrome
  • leprosy
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • myasthenia gravis
  • obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • peanut allergies
  • POTS
  • SSPE

The NVIC even provides “new evidence for a connection” between diabetes and vaccination reactions – from 1998.

And many sites claim they can ‘heal’ your child’s vaccine induced diseases (VIDS) with homeopathy or detox plans scams.

What To Know About Vaccine Induced Diseases

Vaccines are not 100% safe, but it is rare for them to cause serious conditions, and they certainly do not cause all of the ‘vaccine induced diseases’ that some folks try to scare you about.

More About Vaccine Induced Diseases

Who Is at Risk If You Don’t Vaccinate Your Kids?

Passive immunity doesn't last until 12 months, when infants get their first dose of the MMR vaccine, so they are at risk for disease.
Passive immunity doesn’t last until 12 months, when infants get their first dose of the MMR vaccine, so they are at risk for disease. Photo by Jamie Beverly (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Whenever there is a discussion about folks who intentionally choose to not vaccinate themselves or their kids, one of their arguments invariably is ‘why are you so worried if you and your kids are vaccinated?”

Here is an example:

“My argument is simple. If you are vaccinated, you should not have to fear an outbreak of any preventable disease. That’s what the vaccine is supposed to prevent, right? Therefore, why should anyone butt into someone else’s business and tell them they should vaccinate? If one and one’s dependents are vaccinated, why should they have to worry about my personal decision to not vaccinate?”

I personally don’t believe in vaccines

As most people understand, the argument is far from simple.

Who Is at Risk If You Don’t Vaccinate Your Kids?

There are many people who are at risk from those who are unvaccinated, including those who:

  • are too young to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated – remember, with the latest immunization schedule, kids don’t typically get their first MMR until age 12 months and their second until they are 4 to 6 years old
  • can’t be fully vaccinated and have a true medical exemption – this includes children and adults with some immune system problems, vaccine allergies, or other contraindications to getting one or more vaccines
  • were vaccinated, but later developed an immune system problem and their immunity has worn off – might include children with cancer, AIDS, those receiving immunosuppressive therapy after a transplant, or a condition that requires immunosuppressive doses of steroids, etc.
  • were vaccinated, but their vaccine didn’t work or has begun to wear off (waning immunity) – vaccines work well, but no vaccine is 100% effective

These are the children and adults that can be, and should be, protected by herd immunity. At least they can be when most folks are vaccinated.

“We want to create a ‘protective cocoon’ of immunized persons surrounding patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases so that they have less chance of being exposed to a potentially serious infection like influenza.”

Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation

So while some folks who are against vaccines try to scare others about shedding, those who take care of kids with immune system problems and their families go out of the way to get everyone around them vaccinated so their kids aren’t at risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease!

“…the increased risk of disease in the pediatric population, in part because of increasing rates of vaccine refusal and in some circumstances more rapid loss of immunity, increases potential exposure of immunodeficient children.”

Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation

Tragically, not everyone has gotten the message, and we continue to see and hear about kids who are too young to be vaccinated or who couldn’t be vaccinated get exposed to those who got sick because they simply chose to not get vaccinated.

What to Know About Risks from the Unvaccinated

Intentionally unvaccinated children and adults put others at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.

More Information on Risks from the Unvaccinated

Vaccine Education and Advocacy

Need to get educated about vaccines?

In addition to reading through the Vaxopedia, these articles and websites can help you see through the myths and conspiracy theories that might make you think about delaying or skipping one or more vaccines.

Still have questions?

Your pediatrician can be a great resource.

Conspiracy Theories about Vaccines

Conspiracy theories about vaccines go hand-in-hand with the anti-vaccine movement.

From crazy theories about the Illuminati and medical mind control to the idea that Bill Gates is using vaccines to sterilize and depopulate the world.

Other conspiracy theories about vaccines include:

  • the oral polio vaccine caused the HIV epidemic
  • SV40, which did contaminate the original polio vaccines before 1963, causes cancer
  • vaccines don’t really work – instead better hygiene and nutrition led to decreases in vaccine-preventable diseases
  • vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t bad
  • someone is murdering doctors who are opposed to vaccines
  • they put antifreeze in vaccines
  • the CDC has known for a long time that vaccines cause autism
  • new vaccines contain RFID chips so the government can use these nano-microchips to track us
  • a shape-shifting parasitic alien species (the Reptilians) are creating a hereditary reptilian-human hybrid elite that use vaccines to poison us
  • almost anything written by Sharyl Attkisson or Robert F Kennedy, Jr

And the latest anti-vaccine conspiracy theories?

The flu vaccine killed Prince and vaccines are causing babies to be born with microcephaly – it’s not the zika virus.

For more information:

Myths and Misinformation About Vaccines

Myths and misinformation about vaccines help to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Fortunately, these vaccine myths are easily debunked.

For more information: