Polio is a debilitating disease caused by a virus. It’s spread most often from person-to-person contact, but also can be spread by consuming food or drinks that have been contaminated with the feces of an infected individual.
Many of those who get polio have no symptoms, and may recover without complications. Sometimes people who contract polio develop paralysis, the most well-known side effect of the disease, which can result in a permanent disability.
In some cases, polio can cause death by paralyzing muscles the body needs for breathing.
Polio was once very common in the US, paralyzing and killing thousands of people before the polio vaccine was developed and introduced in 1955. While there is no cure for polio itself, it can be prevented altogether by vaccination.
Where to get the polio vaccine
While there is little risk of contracting polio in the US, there is a risk for people traveling to countries that are less industrialized and at a higher risk of getting the disease.
Anyone traveling to the listed areas where there’s an increased risk of getting polio should contact a Pharmaca location near them to see if they need either the IPV or a booster polio shot for their travels. We provide the best medical immunizations for plenty of communicable and preventable diseases, such as polio.
What is polio?
The polio virus is a contagious viral illness that can cause nerve injury, paralysis, difficulty breathing and, in some cases, death.
Since the development of the polio vaccine, the last case of naturally occurring polio in the US. was in 1979. There are still risks of contracting polio in children and adults in certain parts of Asia and Africa. According to the CDC, people traveling to those places where there’s a risk of polio should take certain precautions. Adults who have already been vaccinated can receive a polio booster shot of the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), which provides lifetime immunity.
What causes polio?
Polio is highly contagious. The polio virus is found in the stool of someone who has polio, or in the droplets of a sneeze or cough. Polio can be transmitted if you get stool or those droplets on your hands and then touch your mouth. Children can get the disease by putting objects, like toys, that have stool or droplets on them into their mouth.
A person infected with polio may spread the virus to others immediately before and usually 1–2 weeks after developing the symptoms of polio. The virus itself may survive in an infected person’s stool for many weeks. A person infected with polio can contaminate food and water when they touch it with unwashed hands.
Polio mostly affects children younger than 5 years old. But anyone who hasn’t received the polio vaccine is at risk of contracting the disease.
There are a variety of symptoms of polio that can be identified after a time.
Most people who end up getting the disease will not develop any visible signs or symptoms of polio. Those people who do will outwardly show signs of flu-like symptoms, including:
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
These signs of polio usually last 2–5 days, then go away on their own.
A smaller proportion of people will develop more serious symptoms of polio that affect the brain and spinal cord, including:
- Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
- Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain), which occurs in about 1 out of 25 people with the poliovirus infection
- Paralysis (can’t move parts of the body) or weakness in the arms, legs or both
Paralysis is the most severe, and most infamous, symptom associated with polio. In some cases it can be permanent and sometimes lead to death. Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness or paralysis as adults, 15–40 years later. This is called post-polio syndrome.
Since there is no specific cure for the disease, polio treatment relies on increasing comfort for those affected, speeding recovery and preventing complications. Specific treatment for polio includes:
- Pain relievers
- Portable ventilators to assist breathing
- Moderate exercise (physical therapy) to prevent deformity and loss of muscle function
About the polio vaccination
The polio vaccine has been one of the most successful and effective vaccines ever invented. It has practically eradicated the disease in most industrialized nations, as long as it is given during childhood.
Most people should get the Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) when they are children. Doses of IPV are usually given at 2 months, 4 months, 6–18 months, and 4–6 years of age.
The polio vaccine schedule might be different for some children, however, especially those who might be traveling to certain countries and those who receive the IPV as part of a combination vaccine. A Pharmaca pharmacaist can give you more information.
Most are automatically vaccinated against polio as kids, and as such most likely don’t need the IPV. However, some adults can be at higher risk and should consider getting a polio shot, such as the following:
- People traveling to certain parts of the world,
- Laboratory workers who might handle polio virus
- Health care workers treating patients who could have polio
These higher-risk adults should consider 1–3 doses of IPV, depending on how many doses they have had in the past.
Polio vaccine side effects
Side effects of getting vaccinated are very uncommon with the polio vaccine. If you do end up developing symptoms from the shot, they’re usually mild and resolve themselves within a few days. The most common side effects of the polio vaccine include:
- Soreness near the injection site
- Redness near the injection site
- Low-grade fever