Sunday, May 6, 2018

Infectious diseases, Part 14: Poliomyelitis (Polio)

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 34 ("Words about infectious diseases") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The disease known as poliomyelitis [ˌpoʊ̯.li.oʊ̯.ˌmaɪ̯.əˈlaɪ̯.ɾɪs] (Sp. la poliomielitis [̯o.mi̯e.ˈli.t̪is]), is also known as polio for short (Sp. la polio), or infantile paralysis, its earlier name, since it mostly affects young children, ages 5-15. It is a disease caused by the poliovirus, of the genus Enterovirus, which in most cases of infection does not result any symptoms. However, in 1% of infections, the virus enters the central nervous system and the infection causes inflammation of the motor neurons of the spinal cord and of the brain, resulting in paralysis and muscular atrophy, which may result in deformity. In the worst of cases it many cause permanent paralysis of even death if the diaphragm is paralyzed.

The spinal cord is ‘the cylindrical bundle of nerve fibers which is enclosed in the spine and connected to the brain, with which it forms the central nervous system’ (COED). Other terms for spinal cord are spinal marrow and, in Latin technical term, medulla spinalis  (Sp. médula espinal). The Greek term was νωτιαίος μυελός (notiaíos myelós).

The word poliomyelitis was coined in 1874 by German physician Adolph Kussmaul to refer to this disease. It is formed by the Greek πολιός (poliós) ‘grey’ and µυελός (myelós) ‘marrow’ and the Greek suffix ‑ῖτις (‑îtis) ‘pertaining to’, which we have already seen is used in medical Latin to refer to inflammation. The name comes from the fact that the gray matter in the spinal cord is inflamed, which is what causes paralysis.

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