Polio Disease Picture

Polio – Symptoms, Types, Transmission, Risk Factors, Treatment, Vaccines

Polio or poliomyelitis is a contagious illness triggering flu-like symptoms. The virus, known as poliovirus attacks the nervous system. It can cause mild to severe complications. While people can recover from mild symptoms, severe issues cause muscle paralysis. The irreversible damage to the nerve cells, helping your muscles to function can cause mobility issues. So, you must never ignore the severity of the condition. Apart from paralysis, the virus can also cause breathing difficulty, leading to death. The problem is severe among young children under the age of five compared to others. The condition has no cure. Therefore, you need to take steps to prevent it. Getting vaccination is an effective method to prevent the problem. Read ahead to know more details about the condition.

Learn More About Polio

Polio You have evidence suggesting the attack of poliovirus extending to prehistory. Most of the epidemics before the twentieth century remain unrecorded. The world came to know more about the contagious disease in 1908 after the identification of poliovirus by Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper. It is a severe disease that can cause permanent paralysis in one person among two hundred people affected by the virus. While polio leads to the death of a large number of people in the early twentieth century, the successful eradication program in 1988 has shown results. With the use of vaccination developed for the virus, the cases of polio attacks have reduced. Today, several countries are certified as polio-free. The regions that no longer face the fear of poliovirus are:

  • North America
  • Europe
  • Southeast Asia
  • Western Pacific

But, the condition is still reported in certain countries in Asia and Africa. The condition of persistent in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Eliminating the disease is beneficial to the world as it improves the health status as well as the economy of the affected country. Eradication of the disease can save a huge amount of money (approx. $50 billion) over the next two decades. So, you need to get the vaccination for your children below five years of age. Talk to your doctor or pediatrician to learn about the vaccination schedule and get them without fail.

Symptoms Of Polio

In most cases, people infected with poliovirus never see any signs or symptoms. People tend to notice the symptoms when the condition becomes severe. Advanced cases can lead to paralysis and death. The symptoms associated with the condition vary according to the type of polio you suffer.

Non-paralytic Polio

Some people who contract the virus never experience paralysis. The condition, also known as abortive polio can trigger flu-like symptoms. The mild problem can lead to signs that mimic other viral illnesses. A person affected by such a condition can see signs for at least ten days. The symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Back stiffness or pain
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Stiff arms and legs
  • Muscle tenderness/weakness

Paralytic Polio

It is a serious form of the disease. The initial signs associated with condition mimics non-paralytic polio. So, you can suffer from issues like:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Sore throat

But, within a week the symptoms re replaced by other signs like

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe aching or weakness in muscles
  • Flaccid paralysis (loose and floppy limbs)

Post-Polio Syndrome

It is the condition affecting people several years after contracting poliomyelitis. It causes several disabling signs and symptoms that affect you adversely. So, affected people experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Progressive muscle/joint weakness
  • Joint or muscle pain worsening over time
  • Muscle wasting (atrophy)
  • Swallowing problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders (like sleep apnea)
  • Reduced tolerance of cold temperatures

When To Visit The Doctor

If you have not taken the vaccination, then you need to check with your doctor for vaccination recommendations. It is advisable before you travel to parts of the world still facing the endemic. It is especially necessary for areas like Africa, Asia, or South America. You must call your doctor immediately when you see the following issues:

  • Your child has not completed the vaccination series
  • When your child suffers an allergic reaction to IPV or OPV
  • Your child suffering from signs other than soreness or mild redness at the injection site (in case of IPV)
  • You have suffered from a mild case of polio years before and are experiencing unexplained fatigue or weakness

Transmission Of Polio Virus

Poliovirus is highly contagious. It can transmit through an infected person’s feces. The condition can also spread when objects like toys come in contact with infected feces. It can cause the transmission of the virus. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, the virus can transmit to others. It is because poliovirus lives in the intestines and throat. But, such transmission is less common.

Transmission Of Polio Virus

People who live in areas facing scarcity of running water or have limited access to flush toilets are more at risk of contracting the virus. In such cases, people often tend to defecate in open spaces, leading to water contamination. When people consume drinking water contaminated by human feces, it results in contracting poliovirus. The highly contagious nature of the virus puts individuals living with an infected person at risk of catching it. The virus also affects people with low immunity like children, pregnant women or someone with HIV/AIDS. The risk of catching poliovirus increase in people who have not taken vaccination during the following circumstances:

  • Travel to a location that has experienced a recent polio outbreak
  • Live with or take care of people who have poliovirus infection
  • Work in a lab handling specimen of the virus
  • Have recently undergone tonsillitis surgery
  • Experience extreme stress or indulge in strenuous activity after exposure to the poliovirus

Risk Factors Associated With Polio

Risk Factors Associated With Polio

While poliovirus can affect anyone, it poses a high level of risk to a certain group of people. So, if you come under the following category, then maintain caution:

  • Have not received vaccination
  • Young children (aged below five years)
  • Immunosuppressed people (like people suffering from HIV/AIDS)
  • Pregnant females
  • People traveling to the area facing polio endemic
  • Caregivers who come in close contact with infected patients

Complications Associated With Polio

In most cases, poliomyelitis causes only mild problems. So, it may not cause any complications and people affected by it make a full recovery. But, people affected by paralytic polio can suffer from lasting damage to muscles. Therefore, the common complications associated with the condition are:


Paralytic polio can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis of your muscles. The extent of damage depends on the intensity of the poliovirus attack on your nerve cells. In most cases, the condition affects children under five years. So, they experience paralysis in one leg. While adult suffers paralysis in both legs as well as both arms. The poliovirus damages the cells controlling the muscle movement. Therefore, muscle deformity affects mobility.

Pulmonary Oedema

The increase in blood pressure in the blood vessels of your lungs can lead to fluid accumulation. The excess fluid can affect the functioning of the lungs. So, people can face breathing difficulty.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration Pneumonia

It occurs when you suffer from lung inflammation due to the poliovirus. It is the type of pneumonia developing due to inhaling the contents in your stomach into the lungs.


It is the inflammation of the myocardium (the heart muscle) that can result in the condition. It occurs when poliovirus attacks the nerve cells of your heart muscle. The condition can result in the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat)
  • Heart failure (in severe cases)


Paralytic polio can cause irreversible damage. So, people affected by the condition can suffer from depression. So, they fail to person their normal functions effectively. The mental issues cause difficulty to come to terms with the disability (both physically and mentally).

Diagnosing Polio

It is often easy to recognize the symptoms associated with poliomyelitis. You need to see a doctor for confirming the diagnosis. In normal cases, the symptoms can point towards the virus attack. But, certain diagnostic tests can detect the condition conclusively. So, your doctor suggests the following tests to confirm the presence of poliovirus:

Medical History

You need to answer the questions regarding your exposure to a case of poliomyelitis. So, it includes the details about your recent travels, especially in an area with the endemic of the condition. You must also inform about any direct contact with mucus or nasal secretion with a poliovirus infected person. These details can help your doctor make a proper diagnosis.

Physical Examination

When you suspect poliomyelitis, your doctor performs a thorough physical evaluation. It involves checking the various systems. Your doctor examines the function of respiratory muscles. People affected by the poliovirus experience trouble with respiratory muscle. It is because the virus affects the spinal cord and brain stem. During the physical examination, your doctor also checks the muscle reflexes. Stiff neck, as well as stiff muscles of the back, indicate the presence of poliovirus. The virus causes your reflexes to become abnormal. So, you will find it difficult to lift the legs or head while lying flat on your back or bend your neck.

Cerebrospinal Fluid Examination

Cerebrospinal Fluid Examination

The CSF or cerebrospinal fluids cover the brain and spinal. Using lumbar puncture methods, your doctor tests the CSF. So, using a long, thin needle, your doctor collects a sample of CSF between the vertebrae. The small sample of CSF reveals the presence of poliovirus when tested in affected people.

Throat Culture

Your throat washing can reveal the presence of the virus. Incubating the sample of throat washing at a favorable atmosphere can encourage the growth of the virus. The technicians examine it under the microscope to detect the presence of poliovirus. In some cases, examining the stool sample of the affected person also reveals the presence of the virus.

Blood tests

Your doctor sends a sample of the affected person’s blood to the lab for testing. The analysis of the blood in lab checks for the presence of poliovirus antibodies. When a virus or bacteria invades your body, it produces molecules against the external elements. A person infected with poliovirus can produce specific antibodies to protect their body from the virus. So, special tests can detect the presence of poliovirus using the antibodies.

Treatment For Polio

You have no cure for polio once you get affected by the virus. You can only take supportive measures to ease the symptoms associated with the condition. It is also essential for the body to get enough time to recover. The treatment focuses on enhancing the comfort of the affecting people, speeding the recovery process, and prevent further complications. So, your doctor can suggest the following supportive treatments for relieving the discomfort due to the condition:


  • Moderate exercise (physical therapy) to prevent deformity and loss of muscle function provided to stimulate the muscles and increase mobility for those who become disabled.

Preventing Polio

The use of vaccination is the only effective method to prevent poliovirus from affecting you and your children. Poliovirus is completely eradicated in certain countries like the USA. But, it remains a problem in several countries in Asia and Africa. The vaccination is highly effective in offering protection to children. Records indicate that out of 100 children 99 will not get polio. So, the vaccination offers complete protection from the virus.

Two types of vaccination are available for protecting you against poliovirus. IPV or inactivated poliovirus is used only in the USA. Also known as the Salk vaccine, it contains killed (inactivated) poliovirus strains. So, it can protect against three poliovirus types. It is administered as an intradermal or intramuscular injection. While oral poliovirus vaccination (OPV) is used around the world. It is administered through the mouth. OPV produces antibodies to fight poliovirus. It also aids in preventing the spread of poliovirus to the central nervous system.

Polio Vaccine Schedule

While vaccinating children, IPV and OPV have different schedules. It is important to follow it carefully to get the desired benefits of the vaccination.

IPV Dose Schedule

IPV vaccination is provided in the USA to children in four doses. The inactivated poliovirus various is given at the following ages:

  • First Dose at two months
  • Second Dose at four months
  • Third Dose between six and eighteen months
  • Final dose between four and six years (before entering school)

IPV is safe even for people with a weak immune system. But, it remains unclear how the vaccine protects people suffering from a severe immune deficiency.

Side Effects Of IPV

The inactivated poliovirus vaccination can trigger some side effects. The most common ones are:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Redness at the site of injection
  • Allergic Reaction To Vaccination

In some rare cases, IPV causes an allergic reaction. The vaccine contains trace amounts of antibiotics. So, people who are allergic to neomycin, streptomycin, and polymyxin B must refrain from taking the vaccination. IPV contains the above-mentioned antibiotics. So, it can trigger a reaction in people who have reacted badly to the medications before. You need to watch for signs and symptoms that point towards an allergic reaction. It can occur within minutes or after a few hours of getting the shot. Therefore, watch out for the following:

  • Hives
  • Feeling weak
  • Trouble breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Dizziness

If you or your child experience an allergic reaction after getting the IPV shot, then get immediate medical help to avoid any complications.

OPV Dose Schedule

OPV Dose Schedule

In certain countries, especially in Asia and Africa, the doctor chooses OPV over IPV. So, children get the dose through their mouths. A child gets the first dose of the vaccination immediately after birth. The child gets two more doses within a gap of four weeks each. So, the schedule of OPV is:

  • First Dose at birth
  • Second Dose at one month age
  • Third Dose at 2 months age

Side Effects Of OPV

OPV causes mild side effects. So, it is not serious. Children who get the vaccination can experience the following:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In extremely rare cases, the recipient of OPV can experience vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP). It occurs only one per million doses of vaccination. It sometimes affects the people who come in contact with the recipients of OPV. People who have failed to get a vaccination against poliomyelitis suffer a high risk of the problem. In most cases, the mild side effects can clear on its own after a few days. But, you need to consult a doctor when the problem fails to resolve after a few days or new side effects appear.

Vaccination For Adults

Adults around the world never require vaccination against the poliovirus. It is because they are already immune to the condition. So, the chances of contracting the condition reduces. But, in some cases, adults face a high risk of getting the disease. Some people face more risk of poliovirus. They may have taken a primary vaccination series of OPV or IPV. But, they face the risk due to the following:

  • Travel to a foreign location where poliovirus outbreak occurs frequently (polio-endemic prone regions)
  • You are a healthcare professional working in laboratories. The professions that increase your need to handle specimens containing poliovirus.
  • Work with patients infected with poliovirus. You also face an enhanced risk of polio when you come in contact with individuals who come in close contact with poliomyelitis infected people.
  • Work with patients who may have polio or who doubt exposure of the virus from people infected with polio.

Adults at high risk of exposure to polio need to talk to their doctor about getting one booster shot during their lives. If you have not taken vaccination or your vaccination status remains undocumented, then talk to your doctor about getting the vaccination and its schedule. Follow the doctor’s orders strictly to get maximum benefits.


Getting the vaccination is the best method to remain safe from the attack of poliovirus. Unvaccinated people can get a mild or severe form of polio. Mild cases recover quickly without any lasting damage. But, you need to seek medical assistance for severe forms like paralytic polio. With early medical intervention, you can reduce the severity of the infection. Talk to your doctor about your chances of contracting the issue in the future and take the necessary steps to avoid it. Following good hygiene and avoiding places prone to endemic can help you protect yourself from the deadly disease. You need to consult your doctor for follow-up treatment to prevent the occurrence of the problem in the future.

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