Polio and Reproductive Health

We have come across instances where people have developed a negative perception about the effect of disability on the reproductive health of the affected person. Every person with a disability, regardless of the exact cause of the disability, is presumed by such people as ‘reproductively unhealthy’. In fact, many put a question mark on their ability to get into physical intimacy. While some disabilities may have a mild or severe effect on someone’s reproductive health, being a person with a disability does not automatically make someone asexual, infertile, or impotent. So, it is important to clear the clouds of misconceptions around disabilities and their effect on someone’s reproductive health. We have brought this series to dispel the misconceptions about disability and reproductive health.

In this write-up, we are discussing polio and its effect on the reproductive health of an affected individual. Further down the series, you will get information about other common physical disabilities.

Polio Vaccination and the Myth of Infertility

Before we talk about polio as a disease let us first dispel the myth about its vaccination. One of the most viral myths built around polio vaccination is that it contains ‘anti-fertility agents’. Some communities collectively stood against the vaccination as they believed that it was for making their children infertile. But, there is no scientific base to this conspiracy theory. The polio vaccine does not contain any ingredient or any agent used during production that can be said ‘anti-fertility’.

In fact, the National Control Laboratory for Biologicals, controlled by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) had conducted a study and confirmed that the polio vaccine has no ‘anti-fertility’ effect and it is halal. Islamic leaders all over the world had to come forward and dispel the myth so that young children of the community get vaccinated.

The entire world created vaccination drives for polio and the world is not seeing any new cases of polio, except for a few cases in countries like Pakistan. And, the rate of fertility has not been affected as such. So, never hesitate in getting your child vaccinated against polio. The polio vaccine doesn’t cause infertility.

Does Polio Affect an Individual’s Fertility?

You can often come across questions and threads on platforms like Quora and Reddit where a person shows concern about the fertility of their would-be partners who have polio. For all those genuine concerns, the point answer is that – neither polio vaccination nor the polio disease causes infertility.

The chances of being fertile or infertile as a polio survivor is similar to the general population. So, even if you know someone with polio who has fertility issues, do not link it with polio. In such a scenario it simply means that the person has polio AND fertility issues… both are independent of each other.

Can Polio be Transmitted Genetically?

When you tell a person that polio does not make an individual infertile or impotent, another question starts haunting them – will their child be affected by polio? The answer again to this question is NO!

Polio is a disease caused by the poliomyelitis virus. This virus causes very mild (like the common flu) to severe (paralysis) symptoms and rarely may even cause the death of the affected person. The person catches the viral infection from the surrounding environment. Polio is not caused by any genetic reasons and hence it is not passed to the offspring even in the case where both the parents have polio.

Much dedicated research and studies have been conducted to verify this fact and none of the research found traces of the polio virus or infection in the offspring of polio survivors.

Risk Factors Associated with Polio and Reproduction

We have already discussed that polio doesn’t affect an individual’s reproductive health. Neither it can be genetically passed to the child. Now it is time for a discussion about some risk factors associated with the topic. Polio directly has no effect on anything related to physical intimacy, conceiving, or even giving birth. But, other factors may have some indirect impacts.

  • While polio survivors can be very active in activities relating to physical intimacy, depending on the severity of the paralysis, some individuals may not be comfortable in some positions and may require some adaptations or extra physical support.
  • Conceiving is not an issue but women with severe polio symptoms may face extra challenges during their pregnancy. For example, an ambulatory polio survivor may need to use a wheelchair during the pregnancy as walking with that big belly can become very challenging and she may be at risk of tripping and falling.
  • The development of pelvic bones generally gets affected when a girl gets a polio infection at a very young age. In such a scenario, the birth canal is narrower than normal making the normal birth of a normal-sized fetus risky. A cesarean section is always the best choice in such a case.
  • Many people with polio develop scoliosis in the long run. Scoliosis makes spinal anesthesia (which is usually used for C-sections) difficult. The doctor might need to go for general anesthesia for the C-section delivery of such patient.

Conclusion

Neither polio nor vaccination has any adverse impact on an individual’s reproductive health. The condition is not transferred to the offspring as well. People with polio, both men and women, can have a very normal urge and can be actively participating in activities related to physical intimacy. They are fertile and can conceive easily too. The only concern can be the challenges of pregnancy and delivery. The rate of C-section delivery is significantly higher in women with polio.

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