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What Is Polio?

Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a disease that is caused by poliovirus. Living in an infected person’s throat and intestines, it enters the body through the mouth. It is highly contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. An infected person can spread the virus up to 2 weeks after symptoms appear. Even if symptoms don’t appear, it is still possible to pass the virus to others. 


Types of Polio

Polio affects every person’s body differently. Abortive poliomyelitis causes flu-like symptoms. It does not cause long-lasting problems and lasts for a few days. Non-paralytic poliomyelitis can cause swelling of the area around the brain. Paralytic poliomyelitis attacks the brain and spinal cord. It can cause paralysis that affects the way you breathe, speak and swallow. 


What Causes Polio?

Polio is spread through coughing, sneezing or coming in contact with feces of an infected person. People have reported having the disease after changing a diaper and not washing their hands, drinking or swimming in contaminated water, or being in close contact with someone who has polio. It is highly contagious. 


Polio Symptoms and Effects

Most people have little to no symptoms. However, roughly 1 in 4 people will have flu-like symptoms. This can include a sore throat, fever, nausea, tiredness, stomach pain and headache. These symptoms typically last between 2 to 5 days and will go away on their own. 

For a smaller portion of people, more serious symptoms can occur. Meningitis, for example, is an infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain. Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio because it can become permanent. 

Children can fully recover from polio but develop new muscle pain, weakness or paralysis as adults, sometimes 15-40 years later.  


Polio Diagnosis and Treatment

If a polio diagnosis is suspected, your child’s healthcare provider will hospitalize them right away. They will perform a physical exam, look at your child’s medical history, including their vaccination history and history of any travel. Your child may also be asked to for a stool sample, throat swab, blood or urine test.  

While there is no cure for polio, physical and occupational therapy can be beneficial. This will help with arm or leg weakness. If implemented early enough, it can help improve long-term outcomes.  


Integrated Care

At Gillette Children’s, you will work with our team of neurologists, infectious disease experts, physical therapists and occupational therapists. Collectively, we will find a treatment plan that works for you and your family.