Poliomyelitis (Polio) is a contagious infection caused by various types of Poliovirus. It is spread through direct personal contact and through contaminated food and water. In its most severe form it causes paralysis, breathing problems, and sometimes death.

What are the symptoms of Polio?

Although Polio can cause paralysis and death, up to 95 percent of people who are infected with Poliovirus don’t have symptoms and do not know that they have been infected.

Among the small minority of those affected by the virus, there are three types of symptomatic Polio: abortive Polio, non-paralytic Polio, and paralytic Polio. In symptomatic Polio, symptoms can take from 3–35 days to appear. People who have abortive Polio or non-paralytic Polio usually recover completely. However, paralytic Polio causes muscle paralysis that can result in long-term debilitation and death.

How can I get Polio?

The Poliovirus enters the environment mainly through fecal-oral transmission, especially in areas that have inadequate sanitation. The virus can spread through contaminated food or water and also by contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person.

If you have not been vaccinated, and you are exposed to the Poliovirus, the following factors increase your risk of becoming infected:

  • Close contact with someone who has a Poliovirus infection.
  • Immune system compromise as a result of HIV infection, having had your tonsils removed, or extreme stress.
  • Travel to an area where Polio is endemic or there has recently had an outbreak.

Where can I get Polio?

Polio is endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and has been transmitted recently in Angola, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Your risk of exposure will depend on your living conditions, the length of your stay, and your potential for exposure to infected people or to contaminated food and water. You should consider being vaccinated if you are travelling to a destination where Polio is endemic, where there has been a recent outbreak, or a nearby area.

What vaccines are available for Polio?

The Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) is available In Canada. This vaccine protects against infection from three types of Poliovirus. In young children, the Polio vaccine is combined with other vaccines such as Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis as part of routine immunization.

Adults who have not been immunized and may be exposed to Poliovirus when they travel can get the IMOVAX® Inactivated Polio Vaccine.

How many shots will I need?

Polio has been part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule in Canada since the 1950s. Adults who were not immunized in childhood require three doses of Polio vaccine over a 6–12 month period. A single booster dose is recommended for adults who completed a Polio series in childhood and who are at increased risk of exposure.

Will I need a booster?

If you are over 18 years of age and plan to travel to an area where you are at risk for exposure to Polio, a single booster dose is recommended at least ten years after your primary series. Immunity following a booster dose lasts a lifetime.

How can I prevent Polio?

As a result of national and international vaccination campaigns, Polio no longer exists in many countries. Although improved public sanitation and personal hygiene may help reduce the spread of Polio, vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the disease.

What is the treatment for Polio?

Because there is no cure for Polio, treatment focuses is on supporting recovery and preventing complications. Treatments include bed rest and a nutritious diet. If required, treatment can also include physical therapy, pain medication, ventilators to assist breathing, and antibiotics for secondary infections.

Post-Polio syndrome is a cluster of disabling symptoms that can affect some people decades after they have had Polio. Common symptoms include fatigue and muscle weakness.