Polio (or poliomyelitis) is a disabling and potentially fatal illness caused by the poliovirus, that can infect the spinal cord and cause paralysis. The majority of the population diagnosed with poliovirus encounter no symptoms and survive without complications. Some individuals will have a sore throat, fever, exhaustion, nausea, headache, or stomach pain. Polio or poliomyelitis, is a crippling and potentially deadly disease. It is caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis. Polio can be prevented with vaccines. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the United States since 2000. It is given by an injection in the arm or leg, depending on the person’s age. Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is used in other countries.
A lesser subset of people will experience more severe symptoms affecting the brain and spinal cord:
- Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
- Meningitis (infection of the spinal cord and/or brain covering)
- Paralysis (inability to move parts of the body like arm, leg, or both)
Paralysis is the most severe polio symptom because it can result in permanent disability and death. Children should be vaccinated with 4 doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) at the following ages:
- A dose at 2 months
- A dose at 4 months
- A dose at 6-18 months
- A booster dose at 4-6 years
These are the recommended ages, but children traveling to areas where wild poliovirus (WPV) has circulated in the last 12 months should complete the series before international travel. If a child cannot complete the routine series before departure, an accelerated schedule is recommended. Most adults do not need the polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. But three groups of adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination in the following situations:
- You are traveling to polio-endemic or high-risk areas of the world. Ask your healthcare provider for specific information on whether you need to be vaccinated.
- You are working in a laboratory and handling specimens that might contain polioviruses.
- You are a healthcare worker treating patients who could have polio or have close contact with a person who could be infected with poliovirus.