What is Polio?

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease. Caused by the poliovirus, it spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis. Most people who become infected with poliovirus will not have any visible symptoms. 1 out of 4 will have flu-like symptoms that may include sore throat, fever, tiredness, and nausea, muscle aches and pains. These symptoms usually last 2 to 5 days then go away on their own.

A smaller proportion of people with poliovirus infection will develop other more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord:

  • Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
  • Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain)
  • Paralysis or weakness in the arms, legs or, muscles of respiration

Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio because it can lead to permanent disability and death. Between 2 and 10 out of 100 people who have paralysis from poliovirus infection die because the virus affects the muscles that help them breathe.

Girl with leg brace and crutches looking in a mirror

How is it transmitted?

Poliovirus is very contagious. It enters the body through contact with the feces of an infected person. An infected person may spread the virus to others immediately before and 1 to 2 weeks after symptoms appear. The virus can live in an infected person’s feces for many weeks. It can contaminate food and water in unsanitary conditions, which is why the disease still exists in 3rd world countries.

Polio chambers
Children affected by Polio using crutches and have visible deformities

Didn’t we get rid of polio already?

The polio vaccine, created in the 1950’s, has been effectively used to protect a large portion of the Earth’s population since the 1960’s. That said, polio continues to exist in many parts of our world and, without a focused effort, it has the potential of growing to become a major problem. In 2015, two Ukrainian children were diagnosed, and given the way the disease manifests itself, that means many more were likely infected and didn’t show symptoms.

Will you help?

The journey to eliminate polio has been rough and even though there’s still plenty of miles left to go, the end is in sight. With your help, we can make it.