Polio survivor advises of late effects

When Eric Rushton started experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing, he chalked it up to part of the ageing process.

Despite receiving the same conclusion from his doctor, Eric decided to investigate as his condition continued to worsen.

After a visit to a rehabilitation specialist, he discovered he was experiencing returning symptoms of polio, a disease he was diagnosed with when he was just two years old.

“I wasn’t aware polio was something you could mostly recover from only to have symptoms return decades later,” he said.

An estimated 25 to 40 per cent of polio survivors will experience a return of symptoms decades after their original experience with the disease.

“Thanks to vaccination efforts, polio has become an after-thought for many Australians,” Eric said. “However, there are many of us who still feel its impact.”

Eric has teamed up with Queensland disability advocacy group Spinal Life Australia to raise awareness of the late effects of polio to GPs  and the community.

“Understanding my condition was an important first step. Most people who have been through polio may not be aware that it can still affect them at a later age,” he said.

 “One of my biggest recommendations for survivors is to share their polio history with their GP so they can be fully informed on treatment options and consider a referral to a rehabilitation specialist.”

To help raise awareness of the late effects of polio, Eric conducts free presentations to organisations such as Rotary, Lions, Apex and Probus.

“Spinal Life Australia and myself are working to raise awareness and encourage polio survivors to discuss their symptoms and medical history with their health practitioners,” he said.

“We also work to connect with other polio survivors for support and friendship.”

Eric said living through polio was a traumatic time for many people, mainly because of the painful treatment methods and social isolation that came with a disease that was not fully understood until years later.

“If there is one message I want to convey to polio survivors, it’s that the stigma around polio has gone and there are many people who understand your experience more than you know,” he said.

“Reaching out to others for support can make a big difference.”

For more information on the late effects of polio, visit spinal.com.au/postpolio or call 1300 774 625.