Polio: Overview, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More


Polio is a very contagious disease caused by a virus that harms the nervous system. Children under 5 years old are the most likely to get it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 out of 200 polio infections causes permanent paralysis. Thanks to a global effort to stop polio that started in 1988, these regions are now free of polio, such as:

  • Americas
  • Europe
  • Western Pacific
  • Southeast Asia

The polio vaccine was created in 1953 and became available in 1957. Since then polio cases have dropped in the United States. However, polio still exists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Getting rid of polio will improve health and save money, possibly saving $40-50 billion over the next 20 years. For more research you can also visit Healthline.

What is Polio?

Polio, or poliomyelitis is a disabling and potentially fatal disease caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can infect the spinal cord, leading to paralysis (inability to move parts of the body). 

What is the History of Polio?

Polio has existed for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptian art shows children with bent limbs using canes. A doctor first described it in 1789, and it was officially named a disease in 1840. Polio outbreaks often killed many people, and many survivors were often left paralyzed or needed an iron, old machine, and lung to help them breathe. For centuries it was a very scary disease. In the 1950s, Dr. Jonas Salk made the first polio vaccine. At the time polio paralyzed or killed over half a million people each year worldwide. After the vaccine was introduced these numbers quickly dropped. By 2020 no one in the United States got it and the disease is no longer spreading in most of the world.

What are the Types of Polio?

There are many types of it. Such as:

Abortive Polio:

It is the mildest form of the disease. If you get it, you might have symptoms like a cold or flu and an upset stomach. Your brain is usually not affected. These symptoms typically last for a few days to about a week.

Nonparalytic Polio:

It is similar to aborting it, but the symptoms are more severe and may last longer. You also risk getting meningitis, a serious condition that causes swelling around your brain. You might need to stay in the hospital while you recover.

Paralytic Polio:

It is the most severe type of it. It can cause permanent weakness or paralysis in your legs, arms, or breathing muscles.


It is a rare type of polio that mostly affects infants. It causes swelling of the brain.

Post Polio Syndrome:

Post-polio syndrome occurs when polio symptoms, like weakness in the legs and arms return years after the initial infections. This can happen to anyone who has had polio before even if they fully recovered.

What are the Symptoms of Polio?

It’s estimated that 95-99% of people who get the poliovirus don’t show any symptoms. This is called subclinical polio. Even without symptoms, people with the virus can still spread it to others.

Non-paralytic Polio:

The signs and symptoms of non-paralytic polio, also known as abortive it, can last from one to 10 days. They can be similar to the flu and may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Meningitis

Paralytic Polio:

About 1 percent of its cases can progress to paralytic polio. Paralytic polio can lead to paralysis in the spinal cord (spinal polio) brainstem (bulbar polio), or both (bulbospinal polio). Initial symptoms are similar to non-paralytic polio, but after about a week, more severe symptoms may appear. These include:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe spasms and muscle pain
  • Weak and floppy limbs, sometimes on just one side of the body
  • Sudden paralysis which can be temporary or permanent
  • Deformed limbs especially in the hips, ankles, and feet

Full paralysis is rare. Less than 1 percent of all its cases result in permanent paralysis. In 5-10 percent of polio paralysis cases, the virus attacks the muscles used for breathing, which can lead to death.

Post Polio Syndrome:

It’s possible for polio to come back even after you’ve recovered. This can happen 15 to 40 years later. Common symptoms of post-polio syndrome (PPS) include:

  • Continuing muscle pain
  • Easily feeling tired or fatigued
  • Muscle wasting also known as muscle therapy
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Sleep insomnia, or problems with breathing during sleep
  • Low tolerance to cold temperatures
  • New weakness in muscles that weren’t affected before
  • Feeling of depression
  • Psychological stress
  • Trouble concentrating and remembering things

If you’ve had it and notice these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It’s estimated that 25 to 50 percent of polio survivors will experience PPS. PPS isn’t contagious. Treatment involves strategies to improve your quality of life and reduce pain or fatigue.

What are the Causes of Polio?

Polio is a highly contagious virus that spreads through contact with infected feces. It can also be transmitted by objects like toys that have touched infected feces. Sometimes, the virus can spread through a sneeze or whooping cough as it lives in the throat and intestine though this is less common. People in areas with limited access to clean water or toilets often get polio drinking water contaminated by infected human waste. This virus is so contagious that even living with someone who has it can put you at risk, according to the World Health Organization. Pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems like those with HIV/AIDS and young children are most likely to get polio. If you haven’t been vaccinated you can increase your risk of  getting polio if you:

  • Travel to an area where it is spreading
  • Care for or live with someone who has it
  • Handle a laboratory sample of the virus
  • Have your tonsils removed
  • Experience extreme stress or strenuous activity after being exposed to the virus

What is the Diagnosis of Polio?

Doctors can diagnose it by testing samples of your poop or through for the poliovirus. They’ll take a small sample by swabbing your throat or collecting a poop sample then test it in a lab. Sometimes, they might also check your spinal fluid. This is done with a procedure called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture, where a needle is inserted into your spinal canal to collect a sample of fluid.

What is the Treatment of Polio?

Doctors can only treat the symptoms of polio while the infection runs its course because there’s no cure. The best way to deal with polio is to prevent it through vaccinations. Common treatments to help manage symptoms include:

  • Resting in bed
  • Taking painkillers
  • Using antispasmodic drugs to relax muscles
  • Taking antibiotics for urinary tract infections
  • Using portable ventilators to assist with breathing
  • Undergoing physical therapy or wearing corrective braces to aid walking
  • Applying heating pads or warm towels to ease muscle aches and spasms
  • Receiving in physical therapy to address breathing and lung cancer
  • Engaging in pulmonary rehabilitation to improve lung endurance
  • In severe cases of leg weakness, you might need a wheelchair or other mobility aid.

What is the Prevention of Polio?

If you’ve been fully vaccinated, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get polio even if you’re exposed to it. Polio spreads through person to person contact or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. It’s important to note that washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water, as alcohol based hand sanitizer doesn’t kill the poliovirus. Encourage young children to avoid putting their fingers in their mouths. If you’re around someone with polio try not to touch anything they’ve touched, and wash your hands if you do. Young children under 5 and anyone who isn’t vaccinated should stay away from people with polio. If you’re traveling to a place with polio outbreaks, especially internationally, be extra cautious and make sure you and your family are fully vaccinated.

What to Know About Aseptic Meningitis?

It is a condition where the tissues covering your brain and spinal cord become inflamed. This inflammation can be caused by a bacterial infection, known as bacterial meningitis. When it’s not caused by bacteria, it’s called aseptic meningitis. Most cases of aseptic meningitis are caused by viruses, which is why it’s also known as viral meningitis. It is more common than bacterial meningitis and usually has milder symptoms. Serious complications are rare, and most people recover within two weeks of developing symptoms.

What are the Causes of Aseptic Meningitis?

About half of all aseptic meningitis cases are caused by common seasonal viruses in the late summer and early fall. Viruses that cause aseptic meningitis include:

You can contract these viruses through contact with an infected person’s cough, saliva, or fecal matter. Some of these viruses can also be transmitted by mosquito bites. In rare cases other conditions can lead to aseptic meningitis, such as:

It may develop quickly or over several weeks, depending on the type of organism causing the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Aseptic Meningitis?

The symptoms of aseptic meningitis can vary depending on the virus or medical condition that caused it. Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until the connection has run its course. General symptoms of aseptic meningitis in children and adults include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Painful headache
  • Body aches
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

Infants and toddlers may show the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Irritability and frequent crying
  • Poor eating
  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up after sleeping

You should call your doctor as soon as possible if you or your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Stiff, painful neck
  • Debilitating, persistent headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Seizures

These may be signs of a more serious medical condition.

What is the Diagnosis of Aseptic Meningitis?

If your doctor suspects you have meningitis, they’ll order tests to determine whether you have aseptic or bacterial meningitis. In most cases, your doctor will perform a spinal tap. During a spinal tap, your doctor will extract cerebrospinal fluid from your spine. This is the only definitive way to diagnose meningitis. Spinal fluid is made by the brain and surrounds the brain and spinal cord to protect them. If you have meningitis, your spinal fluid will have high protein levels and increased white blood cell count. This fluid can also help your doctor determine whether bacteria, viruses, or other infectious agents are causing the meningitis. Your doctor may also order other tests to identify the virus causing aseptic meningitis. These tests can include blood tests or imaging tests, X-rays and CT scans.

What is the Treatment of Aseptic Meningitis?

Treatment options for meningitis vary depending on the specific cause. Most people with aseptic meningitis recover in one to two weeks without medical treatment. You will be instructed to rest, drink plenty of water, and take medications to relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications may be recommended for pain and fever control. If aseptic meningitis was caused by a fungal infection or a treatable virus, such as herpes, your doctor might also prescribe specific medications to address those causes.


Is polio still around today?

Endemic transmission of wild poliovirus continues to cause cases in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If it is not stopped in these last remaining areas, it could result in up to 200,000 new cases each year worldwide within the next 10 years.

Which country has no polio?

Vaccines have stopped the spread of wild poliovirus in all two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, other countries have experienced outbreaks of poliovirus variants, which can emerge in areas with low immunization rates.

Is polio curable?

There is no cure for it, only treatments to alleviate the symptoms. Heat and physical therapy are used to stimulate the muscles, and antispasmodic drugs are given to relax the muscles. While these treatments can improve mobility, they cannot reverse permanent paralysis caused by it. The best way to prevent it is through immunization.

Is polio genetic?

There may be several linked genes involved. It is certain that many other factors affect genetic susceptibility, and these factors are also likely controlled by genes. Therefore, susceptibility to poliovirus can be considered polygenic.

Is polio a DNA and RNA?

The poliovirus contains an RNA genome enclosed in a protein shell called a capsid. There are three serotypes of wild poliovirus: type-1, type-2 and type-3, each with slightly different capsid proteins.

Who discovered polio?

While it had been affecting children around the world for many years, the first known clinical description of the disease was made by British doctor Michael Underwood in 1789. It was formally recognized as a condition in 1840 by German physician Jakob Heine.       

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