What is poliomyelitis? — Poliomyelitis (commonly called “polio”) is an infection caused by a virus called “poliovirus.” Most people who get polio have no symptoms. But in rare cases, polio can cause a person’s muscles to stop working (called “paralysis”) or death.
Polio used to be common in the US. But no cases have been reported in the US for more than 30 years. In the mid 1950s, doctors started giving a vaccine to prevent polio. It is one of the vaccines doctors recommend for all babies.
Polio is a still a problem in parts of Asia and Africa. People who travel from those areas to the US might have the virus and could spread it to people who have not had the vaccine.
What are the symptoms of polio? — Most people with polio have no symptoms. A small number of people get symptoms that can include:
●Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea) and throwing up (vomiting)
●Feeling very tired
A very small number of people who have those symptoms also get more serious symptoms. These include:
●Very bad pain in the neck, back, and muscles
●Weakness or paralysis in certain muscles – This can affect the muscles of the legs, arms, and the muscles that help you breathe.
●Problems swallowing and speaking
People who survive these symptoms can get a condition called “post-polio syndrome.” It happens many years after the infection. Symptoms include:
●Weak, shrunken muscles
●Feeling very tired
How does polio spread? — Poliovirus is most commonly spread by contact with the bowel movements (called “feces”) of a person infected with poliovirus. This can happen different ways, including:
●Eating foods or drinking liquids that have poliovirus in them – This can happen if the food or water comes in contact with sewage water.
●Touching surfaces or things that have feces from a person with the virus on them.
Poliovirus can also be spread through saliva (also known as “spit”). That means people can also get polio by sharing food or utensils with an infected person.
Is there a test for polio? — Yes. The main test for polio involves lumbar puncture (sometimes called a “spinal tap”). During this procedure, a doctor puts a thin needle into the lower back and removes a small amount of spinal fluid. Spinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Another doctor then does lab tests on the spinal fluid to check for poliovirus.
How is polio treated? — Treatments can include:
●Medicines to ease pain
●Mechanical ventilation – This involves using a machine that helps with breathing.
Can polio be prevented? — Getting the polio vaccine can prevent polio. This vaccine is given to babies in a series of 4 shots between the ages of 2 months and 6 years.