Poliomyelitis (polio) is viral infection. It is very contagious. The infection can lead to paralysis.
Polio is now extremely rare in the Western world. This is due to very effective vaccination programs. Polio is still a significant problem in parts of Africa and Asia.
Polio is caused by the poliovirus. You can get the virus from contact with:
An infected person
Infected saliva or feces
Contaminated water or sewage
The virus enters the body through the mouth. It travels to the intestines. There it reproduces quickly. The virus then travels through the blood and lymph fluid. It attacks and destroys areas of the nervous system.
Interaction of Lymph, Blood Vessels, and Intestines
If you experience any of these do not assume it is due to polio. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. Contact your physician if you experience these symptoms.
Illness lasts about a week
Nausea and vomiting
Severe muscle pain
Usually asymmetric (affecting each side to varying amounts, or only affecting a single side)
Muscles become flaccid (loose, floppy)
Legs more commonly affected than arms
Muscles required for breathing may become paralyzed
Decades later, previously stable muscle weakness may worsen due to postpolio syndrome
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
Throat swabs, rectal swabs, stool samples, or cerebrospinal fluid to look for the virus
—removal of a small amount of
to check for the virus
Immunological tests—prove that the body has responded to the presence of poliovirus by producing antibodies designed to fight the virus
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. There are no treatments available to get rid of the virus. Treatment is designed to be supportive. It will treat your symptoms. It will also help you avoid complications.
You’ll rest in bed while have a fever. This is in the initial phase of illness.
Medications can be given to lower fever and decrease muscle pain. This may include:
If the muscles you need to breathe become too weak or paralyzed, you may require a period of time on a mechanical ventilator. This machine will take over the work of breathing for you.
The virus can cause contractures. This is a tightening of tissue around a joint. You may be fitted with splints. They will keep your joints from becoming too stiff. You may also receive physical therapy. In therapy your limbs will be moved for you. These are called passive exercises.
After your fever passes, exercises and therapy will help you regain mobility. They will also help to improve your muscle strength.
Two types of vaccines are available to prevent polio:
Oral polio vaccine is given by mouth and uses weakened live viruses
Injected vaccine is in shot form and uses killed viruses
There is a tiny chance of actually acquiring polio due to exposure to the live viruses in the oral polio vaccine. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommend that only injected vaccine be used.
Current immunization recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:
Children should receive a series of four immunization injections, at
6 to 18 months
4 to 6 years
Adults who have never been immunized should receive a series if they are at high risk of contracting polio. Risk is increased in adults who:
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a