Childhood Diseases Rare Polio

Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious, serious viral disease. The polio virus attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours. Children under the age of five are hardest hit by polio disease. Learn more about the polio disease, including polio history and information on the polio vaccine.

What Is Polio?

The polio virus enters the human body through the mouth and is passed through human contact, often through feces. Many infected people experience no symptoms. However, the polio vaccine doesn’t always prevent the polio disease. The one in 200 who does may become paralyzed, experience breathing difficulties or even die.

The polio virus enters the body and attacks the central nervous system, destroying nerve cells that control muscle movement. The muscles become flaccid and limp, and quadriplegia may occur. The brain stem’s motor neurons are attacked in the most severe forms of the disease, leading to:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swallowing and speaking
  • The possibility of death.

Polio - Paralytic Poliomyelitis

Countless children have been affected throughout polio history. Polio disease was dreaded in western nations until 1955, when Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine. The United States hasn’t witnessed any cases of the polio disease since 1979. As a matter of fact, the polio syndrome has nearly been eradicated from the world’s population because of the polio vaccine. The countries that currently experience the highest number of cases, are:

  • Afghanistan
  • India
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan.

Symptoms of the Polio Virus

If the polio vaccine fails, symptoms associated with polio disease fall into two categories–nonparalytic and paralytic.

The nonparalytic polio virus doesn’t cause paralysis. Its symptoms are similar to those of a mild case of the flu, including:

  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle spasms or tenderness
  • Neck stiffness or pain
  • Pain or stiffness in the arms or legs
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting.

Only about 1 percent of cases are paralytic polio. Initial symptoms are similar to the first signs of nonparalytic polio. These can, however, change within 10 days, causing:

  • Loose, floppy limbs (may be worse on one side of the body)
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe muscle aches or spasms.

Those with polio history may actually experience post-polio syndrome decades later, sometimes up to 30 or 40 years after the initial polio virus. Common symptoms of post-polio syndrome are:

  • Breathing or swallowing difficulty
  • Fatigue after little activity
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Progressive weakness and muscles or joint pain
  • Sensitivity to cold temperatures
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders.

Polio Treatment

Because there is no cure for polio, physicians usually recommend providing comfort and speeding recovery time. They may suggest:

  • Analgesics for pain
  • Antibiotics for secondary infection
  • Bed rest
  • Exercises to prevent deformity and muscle function loss
  • Nutritious diet
  • Ventilators to help with breathing.

If you think your child may have polio, or if you’ll be traveling to regions prone to the polio virus, see your doctor. He may recommend that you or your child receive the polio vaccine.


Dowshen, S. (2007). Infections: Polio. Retrieved January 28, 2010 from the Kids Health Web site:

Global Polio Eradication Initiative Staff. (n.d.). The disease and the virus. Retrieved January 28, 2010, from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative Web site:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Polio. Retrieved January 28, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: