Previous generations of Americans had reason to fear poliomyelitis, most often called polio. The disease, which is spread by a virus, can cause paralysis. The disease is now rare in the U.S. because of a vaccine against the virus. However, 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 the 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:
A healthcare provider may diagnose polio by checking your stool or throat for poliovirus. He or she may also want to do a spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture) to get a sample of your spinal fluid to examine.
Polio cannot be cured. Healthcare providers focus on treating symptoms. They may also provide 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 breathe.
The complications of polio can vary.
Many 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 offers protection from the disease. Children should receive a series of vaccines starting in infancy. If you're an adult going to a country where cases are still happening, you may need to be vaccinated. Adults can have a three-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.
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