DefinitionPoliomyelitis (polio) is viral infection. It is now extremely rare in the Western world due to very effective vaccination programs.Polio is still a significant problem in parts of Africa and Asia. The infection can lead to paralysis.
CausesPolio is caused by the poliovirus. You can get the virus from contact with:
- An infected person
- Infected saliva or feces
- Contaminated water or sewage
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Risk FactorsYou have an increased chance of developing polio if you:
- Never received a polio vaccination or did not complete the vaccinations
- Travel to countries where polio occurs (areas of Africa, Middle East and Asia)
SymptomsSymptoms can vary. Some may have the virus but never develop symptoms. Others may simply develop flu-like symptoms that last about a week or so. These symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Back or neck pain and stiffness
- Muscle tenderness
- Muscle weakness
- Paralysis—usually affects each side to varying amounts or only affects a single side
- Muscles become flaccid (loose, floppy)
- Muscles required for breathing may become paralyzed
- Urinary problems
- Decades later, previously stable muscle weakness may worsen due to postpolio syndrome
DiagnosisYour doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.To look for the virus you doctor may order:
- Body fluid samples such as throat swabs, rectal swabs, or stool samples
- Lumbar puncture to evaluate cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord
TreatmentTalk with your doctor about the best plan for you. There are no treatments available to get rid of the virus. Treatment will provide support while your body heals. It will also help you avoid complications.
Bed RestThe doctor may recommend bed rest during the initial phase of the illness.
Fever ControlMedication may be given to lower fever and decrease muscle pain. These may include acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Assisted VentilationIf the muscles you use to breathe become too weak or paralyzed, you may a ventilator. This machine will take over the work of breathing for you.
RehabilitationThe virus can cause a tightening of tissue around a joint. A splint will help relax the joint and keep your joints from becoming too stiff. You may also receive physical therapy to keep your limbs moving and decrease muscle loss.After your fever passes, exercises and therapy will help you regain mobility. They will also help to improve your muscle strength.
PreventionThe best way to prevent polio is by completing the vaccine which is started during childhood years.Most adults have already received this vaccine when they were children. But, if you are at high risk for getting this infection, you may need a booster vaccine. High risk includes:
- Traveling to areas where polio is present
- Caring for people with polio
- Working in labs where poliovirus is handled
Healthy Children - American Academy of Pediatrics
World Health Organization
BC Health Guide, British Columbia Ministry of Health
Ontario March of Dimes
Poliomyelitis (polio). World Health Organization website. Available at: http://www.who.int/topics/poliomyelitis/en. Accessed June 19, 2014.
Polio eradication. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/polio. Updated January 27, 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
Poliomyelitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 10, 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 06/19/2014