Diseases & Conditions


PolioCausesPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Polio?

Poliomyelitis, otherwise known as infantile paralysis or polio is an acute and infectious disease caused by a virus and attacking the body’s nervous system. Polio can be easily spread via the fecal-oral route.

Causes of Polio

The polio virus stays only inside humans and gets exposed to the environment through the feces of an infected person. It can then spread easily in areas with inadequate sanitation. The virus can be transmitted via contaminated food, water or even through direct contact with an infected person. It is highly contagious and anyone residing with an infected person is highly likely to develop the symptoms of Poliomyelitis. Infected persons are most contagious 7-10 days prior to and after the outbreak. The virus can spread for weeks after that through the feces.

Prevention of Polio

The best way to prevent Poliomyelitis is by getting immunized against the virus with the help of Polio Vaccine. Children get 4 doses of the inactivated polio virus at certain ages (when they are two months old, four months old and between 6-18 months) A booster shot is given when they are ready to go to school, between ages 4 and 6. High risk adults who have already been immunized can also get a booster dose of inactive Poliomyelitis virus which can last for a lifetime.

Risk Factors of Polio

  • Non immunization
  • Poor sanitation
  • Very young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immunity

Risk Factors In case a person hasn’t been immunized

  • Traveling to areas where Poliomyelitis is rampant or has recently witnessed an outbreak
  • Living with those shedding Poliomyelitis virus
  • Handling live Poliomyelitis virus specimens in labs
  • Having tonsillectomy
  • Compromised immunity, as in HIV infection.
  • Activities of extreme strain and stress can depress the body’s immunity.

Symptoms of Polio

Though in the most severe cases, Poliomyelitis virus can cause paralysis and even death, a large number of people who have been infected with polio virus do not even become aware that they have been infected.

In case of non paralytic polio, people may develop mild, flu like symptoms as those caused by common viruses. Symptoms can last for 2-10 days. Non paralytic Poliomyelitis is characterized by:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Muscle tenderness or spasms
  • Stiffness or pain in legs and arms.
  • Meningitis

In the case of paralytic polio, which is the most severe form, initial symptoms may be similar to non paralytic Poliomyelitis. However, after 1-10 days, other symptoms such as these may appear

  • Severe muscle spasms and aches
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Acute flaccid paralysis (loose and floppy limbs) which can be worse on side of body.
  • Paralysis onset may be quite sudden.

Treatment for Polio

There is no available cure for Poliomyelitis. Treatment focuses on increasing the person’s comfort, preventing complications and aiding a speedy recovery. Treatment may include antibiotics for secondary infections, bed rest, nutritious diet, use of analgesics for pain relief, moderate exercise to prevent loss of muscle function, and portable ventilation for assisting breathing.

Classification of Polio

Paralytic polio has been traditionally classified into different types based on the body part that has been affected. The classifications flexible and can overlap one another.

  • Spinal Polio attacks certain never cells in the spinal cord and causes paralysis of those muscles that control breathing and motor activities in legs and arms.
  • Bulbar Polio is serious and affects the brain stem motor neurons. Bulbar polio can adversely interfere with these functions and can affect a person’s ability to swallow, speak and even breathe.
  • Bulbospinal Polio is like a combination of both these types. It may cause paralysis of legs and arms as well as affect swallowing, breathing and heart function.