Previous generations of Americans had reason to fear poliomyelitis, most often called
polio. The disease is spread by a virus. It can cause paralysis. The disease is now rare
in the U.S. because of a vaccine against the virus. But polio still exists in a few
countries. People who have not been vaccinated can get it while traveling to a region
where the disease still happens.
Polio can take several different forms:
Polio is spread through the feces or mucus of people infected with the virus. In about
1 in 200 cases, people who have polio become paralyzed. The paralysis usually affects
the legs, and it is permanent. Polio usually affects children under age 5. The disease
is more common in the summer and fall.
You are at increased risk for polio if you:
Polio can cause a variety of symptoms. Depending on the severity of the case, these can include:
healthcare provider may diagnose polio by checking your stool or throat for poliovirus.
He or she may also want to do a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to get a sample of your
spinal fluid to examine.
Polio can't be cured. Healthcare providers focus on treating symptoms. They may also
prescribe medicine, including pain medicine, and suggest bed rest. Some people with
polio can't breathe on their own will need a machine called a ventilator to help them
The complications of polio can vary.
people who have had polio develop a condition called post-polio syndrome decades later.
Symptoms can include new muscle weakness and fatigue. Some people may have muscle
shrinkage. Most people who didn't have severe symptoms from polio don't have severe
symptoms from this problem. If you have this condition, exercise and stretching may help
you feel better.
Being vaccinated against polio can protect you from the disease. Children should get a
series of vaccines starting in infancy. If you're an adult going to a country where
cases are still occurring, you may need to be vaccinated. Adults can have a 3-dose
series of vaccines. This may be needed in people who haven't been fully vaccinated or
don't know if they have been.
People with certain immune problems can catch the disease from a child who has recently been vaccinated with oral polio vaccine. This type of vaccine is no longer used in the U.S.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200