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Poliomyelitis (Polio)

What is poliomyelitis?

Poliomyelitis, also called polio, is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by three types of poliovirus. The poliovirus is a virus most recognized for its destruction to the nervous system causing paralysis. The majority of individuals who are infected with polio, however, have no symptoms and a few have mild symptoms. Of those persons who do acquire the infection, 5 percent or fewer may develop paralytic disease. Since the advent of the polio vaccine during the early 1950s, infections from the poliovirus have nearly been eradicated. 

In countries that are poor, underdeveloped, and do not have access to the vaccine, polio is still a concern especially for infants and children. The World Health Organization (WHO) continues its efforts to eradicate the virus worldwide.

How is poliovirus spread?

Transmission of the poliovirus most often occurs from fecal-oral contact. Usually, this occurs from poor hand washing or from ingestion of contaminated food or water. Respiratory secretions also spread poliovirus. Those infected with the virus can excrete the virus in their stool for several weeks. Individuals are most contagious immediately before the onset of symptoms and soon after they appear.

What are the symptoms of poliomyelitis?

Poliovirus infections can exhibit symptoms in varying degrees of severity. The majority of individuals (90 to 95 percent) have no symptoms at all. This is referred to as inapparent infection. Three other categories of polio infection will be discussed.

The following are the most common symptoms of poliomyelitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of poliomyelitis may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is poliomyelitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for poliomyelitis may include the following:

Treatment for poliomyelitis:

Specific treatment for poliomyelitis will be determined by your child's physician based on:

While there is prevention of the poliovirus, there is no cure for children who become infected. Treatment is supportive. This means that the symptoms may be treated to improve your child's comfort and recovery. Treatment may include:

Complications of paralytic poliomyelitis may include permanent paralysis of certain muscle groups including breathing muscles and leg muscles.

How can poliomyelitis from the virus be prevented?

The following prevention measures will help prevent the spread of the poliovirus:

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