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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 hand washing. 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
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 polios. But each person may have different symptoms.
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 he or she may seem to improve before getting sick again with these
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 may happen:
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 causes:
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 to use 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
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
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
Since the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955, polio in the U.S. has nearly been eliminated.
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 people.
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 you.
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 visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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