Mary Berry health: Bake Off judge opens up about her childhood health battle – symptoms

Mary Berry’s keen sense for all things culinary was evident early on in her career when, at the age of 31, she became food editor of Housewife magazine. At that time, Mary was only getting started on a career that would go on to see her publish more than 75 cookery books and host several successful television shows, including the hugely popular The Great British Bake Off.


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Mary’s life could have been tragically cut short, however, as she revealed in her autobiography that she was struck down with polio at the age of 13.

The TV presenter divulged that her health rapidly deteriorated after complaining about a headache and sore throat.

Mary was then subjected to drastic measures in a bid to contain the disease, revealing she was placed in a glass isolation room for a month.

She said: “Alone and feeling terrible, the one thing I wanted was my mother. But my parents had to stay on the other side of the glass, only able to smile and mouth words of reassurance.”

Mary added: “During their visits, I was in floods of tears. I just couldn’t understand why Mum wasn’t coming in to give me a cuddle, to talk to me and comfort me.”

Fortunately, she recovered from polio but but the disease has left her with a curvature of the spine and a slightly misshapen left hand.

As the NHS explains, polio is a serious viral infection that used to be common in the UK and worldwide.

Most people with polio don’t have any symptoms and won’t know they’re infected, but for some people, the virus causes temporary or permanent paralysis, which can be life threatening, notes the health body.

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Cases of polio in the UK fell dramatically when routine vaccination was introduced in the mid-1950s but the infection is still found in some parts of the world, and there remains a very small risk it could be brought back to the UK.

How do I know if I have it?

“Most people with polio won’t have any symptoms and will fight off the infection without even realising they were infected,” explained the NHS.

A small number of people will experience a flu-like illness three to 21 days after they’re infected, however.

Symptoms can include:

  • A high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • A sore throat
  • A headache
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain
  • Aching muscles
  • Feeling and being sick


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In a small number of cases, the polio virus attacks the nerves in the spine and base of the brain, which can cause paralysis, usually in the legs, that develops over hours or days, says the NHS.

“The paralysis isn’t usually permanent, and movement will often slowly return over the next few weeks and months,” explained the health body.

It added: “But some people are left with persistent problems. If the breathing muscles are affected, it can be life threatening.”

Long-term problems

Although polio often passes quickly without causing any other problems, it can sometimes lead to persistent or lifelong difficulties, as in Mary’s case.

“A few people with the infection will have some degree of permanent paralysis, and others may be left with problems that require long-term treatment and support,” explained the NHS.

These can include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Shrinking of the muscles (atrophy)
  • Tight joints (contractures)
  • Deformities, such as twisted feet or legs

There’s also a chance that someone who’s had polio in the past will develop similar symptoms again, or worsening of their existing symptoms, many decades later, notes the NHS.

Mary has not found her long-term problems to be an impediment, however: “I manage well, and have the perfect excuse never to darn socks.”

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