What is polio?
Poliomyelitis is commonly called polio. It is an infectious disease. It is caused
by 1 of 3 types of poliovirus. Polio is easily spread from person to person. The poliovirus
is a virus that can cause paralysis. But most people who are infected with polio have
no symptoms, and a few have mild symptoms. Very few people who get polio develop paralysis.
Since the polio vaccine was invented in 1955, polio has been nearly stamped out. In
the U.S., there have been no known cases of polio since 1979.
Poor and developing countries may not have access to the vaccine. Polio is still a
concern in these areas, especially for infants and children.
What causes polio?
Polio is caused by 1 of 3 types of the poliovirus. It often spreads due to contact
with infected feces. This often happens from poor handwashing. It can also happen
from eating or drinking contaminated food or water. It can also be spread when an
infected person coughs or sneezes infected droplets into the air. Those with the virus
can excrete the virus in their stool for several weeks. People are most contagious
right before symptoms start and soon after they appear.
What are the symptoms of polio?
Symptoms of polio vary in their severity. Most affected people have no symptoms at
all. This is called an inapparent infection. The other types of polio are abortive,
nonparalytic, and paralytic.
The following are the most common symptoms of polio. But each person may have different
Abortive polio is a mild and short course of the disease with 1 or more of these symptoms:
The symptoms for nonparalytic polio are like abortive polio. The infected person may
feel sick for a couple of days. Then, they may seem to improve before getting sick
again with these symptoms:
Pain of the muscles in the neck, trunk, arms, and legs
Stiffness in the neck and along the spine
The symptoms for paralytic polio are like the other 2 types. Plus, these symptoms
How is polio diagnosed?
Along with a complete physical exam and medical history, these tests may be done:
How is polio treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
A vaccine can prevent polio, but there is no specific treatment for people who become
infected. Treatment is focused on easing symptoms. Supportive measures include:
What are possible complications of polio?
The most severe complication of polio is paralysis. This can lead to problems with
breathing, swallowing, and bowel and bladder function.
Post-polio syndrome can happen many years after the initial infection. This syndrome
Muscle weakness and shrinking of the muscles
Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
Pain in the muscles and joints
Can polio be prevented?
Measures to prevent polio include:
In the U.S., the polio vaccine is recommended to be given at these ages:
Between 6 and 18 months
Between 4 and 6 years
IPV. Inactivated poliovirus vaccine is given by a shot (injection). This vaccine is given
at all 4 vaccine visits. IPV can't cause polio. That's because the virus has been
killed. It is safe for people with a weak immune system. Tell your healthcare provider
if you have an allergy to neomycin, streptomycin, or polymyxin B, as you may not be
able to get the IPV.
OPV. Oral poliovirus vaccine is given by mouth. In very rare cases, OPV has been known
to cause vaccine-linked paralytic poliomyelitis. Experts now recommend that the OPV
not be given routinely and that only IPV be given. OPV should not be given to people with a weak immune system.
Living with polio
Polio can have various effects on your lifestyle. It depends on the severity of your
symptoms. Types of treatment and support can include:
Assistive devices for movement, such as braces, canes, orthotics, and wheelchairs
Breathing help, such as extra oxygen or a ventilator
Physical and occupational therapy to help with movement
Nutritional therapy, such as special diets or help with eating
Lifestyle changes to adapt to your symptoms
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider
know. Certain signs and symptoms should be reported right away, such as:
Key points about polio
Polio is an infectious disease caused by any 1 of 3 types of poliovirus. It is easily
spread from person to person.
Polio can cause paralysis. But most people who are infected with polio have no symptoms,
and a few have mild symptoms.
Since the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955, polio in the U.S. has nearly
Poor or underdeveloped countries may not have access to the vaccine. Polio is still
a concern, especially for infants and children.
While there is a vaccine to prevent polio, there is no specific treatment for infected
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.