What is Polio?

Poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. Polio can cause severe damage to the brain and the spinal cord. The last known case of polio that occurred naturally in the United States was in 1979.

How does Polio Spread?

Polio lives in an infected person’s throat and intestines and can contaminate water and food. Polio spreads from person to person in a number of ways

  • Contact with infected feces (poop)
  • Contact with droplets from a sneeze or cough from an infected person
  • Contact with contaminated food or water

A person who is infected with polio can spread the virus for up to two weeks, before and after symptoms begin.

What are the Symptoms of Polio?

The majority of people who become infected with polio do not show symptoms. There are two types of polio, Nonparalytic Polio and Paralytic Polio.

Nonparalytic Polio

Nonparalytic polio causes mild, flu-like symptoms and does not lead to paralysis. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Pain or stiffness in the arms or legs
  • Muscle weakness or tenderness

Paralytic Polio

A more serious form of polio that can lead to paralysis and causes. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe muscle aches or weakness
  • Loose and floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis)


Some people can suffer from post-polio syndrome, years after they have recovered. Symptoms include:

  • Progressive muscle or joint weakness and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle wasting (atrophy)
  • Breathing or swallowing problems
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea
  • Decreased tolerance of cold temperatures

Preventing Polio and the Vaccine

In the United States, children receive 4 doses of the polio vaccine at

  • Two months
  • Four months
  • Six months
  • A booster dose between the ages 4 to 6 years old

Most adults in the United States have been vaccinated against polio. If you are unsure of your vaccination status, contact your local health department or speak with your provider. If you are unable to confirm your vaccination status talk to your doctor.

View a personal story of someone who was affected by polio.

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