Polio is a contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes nerve injury leading to paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes death.
In the U.S., the last case of naturally occurring polio was in 1979. Today, despite a worldwide effort to wipe out polio, poliovirus continues to affect children and adults in parts of Asia and Africa.
What are the symptoms of polio?
It’s estimated that 95 to 99 percent of people who contract poliovirus are asymptomatic. This is known as subclinical polio. Even without symptoms, people infected with poliovirus can still spread the virus and cause infection in others.
- a sore throat
- loss of reflexes
- severe spasms and muscle pain
- loose and floppy limbs, sometimes on just one side of the body
- sudden paralysis, temporary or permanent
- deformed limbs, especially the hips, ankles, and feet
- continuing muscle and joint weakness
- muscle pain that gets worse
- becoming easily exhausted or fatigued
- muscle wasting also called muscle atrophy
- trouble breathing and swallowing
- sleep apnea, or sleep-related breathing problems
- low tolerance of cold temperatures
- new onset of weakness in previously uninvolved muscles
- the trouble with concentration and memory
Talk to your doctor if you’ve had polio and are starting to see these symptoms. It’s estimated that 25 to 50 percent of people who survived polio will get PPS. PPS can’t be caught by others having this disorder. Treatment involves management strategies to improve your quality of life and reduce pain or fatigue.
How does the poliovirus infect someone?
As a highly contagious virus, polio transmits through contact with infected faeces. Objects like toys that have come near infected faeces can also transmit the virus. Sometimes it can transmit through a sneeze or a cough, as the virus lives in the throat and intestines. This is less common.
People living in areas with limited access to running water or flush toilets often contract polio from drinking water contaminated by infected human waste. According to the Mayo Clinic, the virus is so contagious that anyone living with someone who has the virus can catch it too.
Pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems — such as those who are HIV-positive — and young children are the most susceptible to the poliovirus.
If you have not been vaccinated, you can increase your risk of contracting polio when you:
- travel to an area that has had a recent polio outbreak
- take care of or live with someone infected with polio
- handle a laboratory specimen of the virus
- have your tonsils removed
- have extreme stress or strenuous activity after exposure to the virus