Poliomyelitis (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.


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 and travels to the intestines. There the virus grows and spreads quickly. The virus can also travels through the blood and lymph fluid. It can then attack and destroys areas of the nervous system which leads to a loss of control of muscles and paralysis.
Interaction of Lymph, Blood Vessels, and Intestines
Lymph and vessels in Abdomine
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

You 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)


Symptoms 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:
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Back or neck pain and stiffness
  • Muscle tenderness
If the nervous system is affected, symptoms may include:
  • 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
Some people with a polio infection can experience symptoms years after the initial attack. This can include muscle weakness, fatigue, breathing and swallowing problems.

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